- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A year ago, the Northern Patriots tennis team ran the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference table in the regular season, producing a perfect 12-0 record to take the conference’s regular season championship.
But that was last year. Gone are nine seniors who all were a part of the starting lineup in at least some matches during the season. Gone is the work ethic possessed by those seniors that led the Patriots to the perfect regular season.
“The seniors were all great,” said current senior Nate Howard, who teamed with current junior Olivia O’Kane to win the SMAC mixed doubles championship last May. “We loved them all. It’s really going to hurt without them, but I think we can go far this year, too.”
Finding that same level of production will be a difficult task. Northern head coach Bill Marks will look to his singles players to hopefully set the tone in the season’s early going.
“All four of our singles players are going to be [key],” he said of boys John Niswander, Howard and girls Rachel Clark and Natalie Burke. “They’re our bread and butter. They’re our best players at this point. Other players are up and coming, but they need some more development.”
For Niswander, a senior, this year’s success hinges on how seriously the team is about continuing the success.
“The key to the season is to stay focused,” he said. “A lot of the new players have a chance to step up and get some good playing time. I think we’ll be good this season. We’ll compete at the top with the best.”
For O’Kane, who is playing on the team’s No. 1 girls doubles tandem, consistency is what will help the program reload.
“We graduated a lot of good players last year and have a pretty young team this year, a big team, too,” she said. “We definitely need to work on consistency and getting our shots in. That’s something that I personally struggle with, and I know that other people do, too.”
While the starting lineup is essentially brand-new, Howard thinks there are plenty of new players who should be able to help keep the Patriots competitive.
“We gained a lot of really good girls, so that’s definitely going to help us for the season,” he said. “The guys also are stepping up, the younger guys. I think our girls are really going to carry us, though.”
While this year’s team could feel pressured to try to duplicate what the team accomplished last year, last year’s success came as a moderate surprise to some. In part, some of that success was due to the way the team jelled and bonded throughout the season, according to O’Kane. That is something she also thinks is vital to the success the team ultimately experiences in the months to come.
“I don’t think we were expecting to be as good as we were,” she said of last year’s team. “As soon as the first two or three matches were done last season, we all just really bonded as a team. That’s something that’s really crucial in tennis, being able to relate to your partner and the people on your team.”
There is also plenty of incentive for the Patriots, as even with the spotless regular season mark the team still came up a point short of Leonardtown in the SMAC tournament last year, tied for the runner-up spot with Huntingtown.
“We’re definitely coming back with some vengeance,” O’Kane said.
Northern got the season off to a positive start with a 7-2 win over McDonough on Monday. A scheduled Wednesday match at Lackey was postponed to Thursday, too late for inclusion into this edition. Marks just hopes his team is able to take it a match at a time and build itself into something by the end of the season.
“To repeat, it’s possible,” he said. “But it’s a tall order. If I can get them to concentrate and commit to what they have to do, it’s possible.”