LEBANON: Sure, girls just want to have fun. But Kaeley Skakalski, a senior Lebanon senior, also enjoyed shooting a few tennis balls past you.
Four years ago, Skakalski took a flight with a Lebanese girls tennis program that was returning from a dormant period due to low numbers. Skakalski is now a senior and part of a raider squad enjoying a 9-3 season with legitimate hope of advancing in the NHIAA Division III state tournament.
The key, Skakalski said, was combining learning, winning, and competitive attitudes under the guidance of two coaches who take complementary approaches to teaching the game.
“I think we are so successful because everyone is competitive and ready to work hard,” said Skakalski before the cool Friday practice of the Raiders on the CCBA courts. “That is what sets us apart from previous years. Everyone has a really good matchup on the team so they always have someone to challenge them. Everyone is welcome and we’re pretty much friends. “
Long-time boys soccer coach Rob Johnstone took the girls tennis job five years ago and expanded his interest in a sport he played in his spare time for most of his life. He inherited a program whose only girl had joined the Raider Boys for lack of female teammates.
The Lebanon numbers have been largely healthy since then. Success also followed from a winless debut in 2017 to 2-12 and 6-8 over the next two seasons. The Raiders lost the schedule of last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It doesn’t matter how coordinated you are, but when you add competitive spirit and natural athleticism all you have to do is hit the ball,” said Johnstone. “How do you hold the bat? How do you hit the ball Then how do you throw in motion? And then how do you throw movement and actually try to win a point? That is what you will eventually see, and it could perhaps be an analogy for the program. “
Johnstone benefited from expert help to keep progress this spring. He met Rick Hines at Our Court, the White River Junction tennis club where they both play. When it emerged that Hines’ older daughter Keira might be willing to forego softball for tennis, Johnstone convinced both of them to jump into the net.
If he can’t offer the technical tennis knowledge he has as a football coach, Johnstone can at least set goals for the Raiders. Rick Hines takes care of the nuts and bolts. Tammy Arado, Lebanon’s freshman coach and tennis director at the River Valley Club, has also lent an occasional hand.
“I know how to train, but he’s a real tennis coach,” said Johnstone of Hines. “That’s the thing that really helped these guys, those subtleties that I would love to see, highlight and teach in a soccer game. I just like to play tennis. This is the guy who really studies tennis and trends and how to break people down. “
The Raiders have made up for a general lack of experience on the pitch with a team-wide competitiveness that Keira Hines said denies the program’s in and out history.
“I think my technique has definitely improved. I think everyone’s technique and strategy have improved, ”said Hines, who leads the Raiders ranking with Skakalski in the first doubles and works with Skakalski. “When I came to the tennis team, I never would have known the program had had problems for the past few years because all these girls are so passionate and competitive. Little did I know tennis had problems. “
Success arises from progress and trust from success. Although Lebanon, which was granted a first-round defeat to Stevens on Friday, lost twice in the regular season to Kearsarge – arguably the favorite of the D-III tournament – the Raiders fear no possible encounter with the Cougars in the quarterfinals Monday. Kearsarge’s 8-1 and 6-3 wins were littered with close encounters that could have reversed the end result with a game won here or there.
“I think it was a big deal for the whole team,” said Skakalski. “Not only did I see my game, but there were also many other games nearby. … The individual results of each game were encouraging to see that you can win. You are right there; You just got a little extra boost. “
Skakalski first learned field hockey and skiing as well as tennis as a novice. She stayed with the former but gave up skis after a winter.
She also played tennis and was part of the constant renewal of the Raiders. You and your teammates will happily accept that no matter what happens next week.
“I’m really glad this is the team I’m finishing my senior year with,” she said. “It means a lot.”
Greg Fennell can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3226.