The Pentucket boys tennis team had a perfect regular season last year, going 16-0. The Sachems looked like the team to beat entering the state tournament, and that's exactly what happened in the first round.
Falling to Bedford 4-1, the Pentucket dream seemed to be over as soon as it began.
"I think mentally, they were (spent)," coach Christian Langlois says of his team's tournament performance in 2011. "On the last day of the regular season, we had to play Hamilton-Wenham, who are a perennial powerhouse. We had as tight of a match as you can get to get us to 16-0. Then I think everybody was like, 'Yeah, we did it.' It was the culmination of everything they worked for. Now we can have a regular successful season, and let's look at what we can accomplish in the postseason."
Langlois doesn't want to lose, ever. But he also acknowledges that most people learn from their mistakes.
"It's easier to learn from a loss," Langlois says. "Even if you have a close match where you feel like you didn't play that well or you did some things wrong. If you win, you don't really feel the consequences of doing things wrong. Whereas, if you lose, it sinks in more."
For senior co-captains Brandon Conn, Jimmy Beaton and Chris Adams, things might have sunk in a little bit more for them than their underclassmen teammates. This is the last chance to right last year's wrong.
"We want to go deep in the tournament," says doubles player Adams. "We want to make a run this year."
There's a score to be settled here, not just for the Sachems, but for all the other teams that they beat in the regular season last year (i.e., everybody).
"I think, through the league, we have a target on our back," says Beaton, who plays singles. "But we have a lot of kids who put in a lot of time during the offseason. So, a lot of the guys are just pumped and ready to go."
"Having a target on our back will just make us want to work even harder," adds Conn, who started playing varsity when he was a freshman. "Because we know that teams are going to want to kill us this year. Because we did that to them last year."
"Last year, we lost first round and that might have been because the teams we were playing didn't match up quite as well as we did," says Adams. "We really waxed some teams. I think, this year, playing teams like Manchester Essex, Hamilton-Wenham, Newburyport, North Andover, there's some really strong programs out there in the Cape Ann League, and I think that's going to help us in the long run."
To get the Sachems to the next level, Langlois made sure that his players spent a lot of their offseason haunting the local tennis clubs and working with tennis pros. He also made sure his captains were there for any new players that would arrive.
"We want to teach a lot of the younger guys, because they're going to be the future of the team," says Conn. "So, we want to mentor them as much as we can."
The tutoring seems to be playing off, on and off the court.
"We're a very close team," says Beaton. "There are a couple of younger guys who, every time we pass in the hallway, we do five high-fives. A lot of times, we're (at the court) early and hanging out as a team."
Langlois can see the difference in his team himself.
"I think it's different," Langlois says of his team's 2012 temperature. "Last year, most of the seniors were in their third year of playing varsity and the team really looked up to them and deferred to them. Whereas this year, everybody knows who the leaders are and they do what they're supposed to do. But it's a different vibe. I feel like everybody is a little bit more equal. And I think it's a credit to what the captains have done."
Perhaps the biggest thing gained by last year's regular-season success is a sense of rejuvenation in the program.
"There's only four seniors here (including Pat Dahn)," says Adams. "But I think that the tennis program is just being put on the map. Especially in the last couple of years with our success in the CAL. I think tennis will be on the map for Pentucket."
Langlois in just five years as coach has seen a lot of change and is happy for it.
"Eleven kids came out for the team the first year I took over in 2008, and I think, my top seven had played tennis," concludes Langlois. "Then the other four just hadn't played. Now, you go five years later to this year, and we had a few kids who tried out who came over from other sports, but they didn't make it because we had 17 tennis players. The numbers have gone up. The skill level has gone up. Everybody's excited. The boys are excited about the program. I can see they all want to get better."