By Jim Sullivan Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News
---- — They had a tough flight but made out pretty well.
Based out of the Newburyport Racquet Club, the New England Nor’Easters took their game to the United States Tennis Association 18 and Under Junior National Championships in Cayce, S.C., in late October to face 15 other teams from around the country and found themselves, through the luck of the draw, immersed in the toughest flight.
No, they weren’t spiraling toward the ground from 30,000 feet, but the tournament’s setup called for four flights of four teams apiece, and the Nor’Easters were placed smack dab in the middle of the toughest of those quads facing North Carolina, Oklahoma and Hawaii.
“I had no problem with the way that they did it,” Nor’Easters coach John Tracy says of the flight system. “I just thought it was a little bad luck that we could have done a little better. But I don’t know how much better we would have been. We lost three matches to two to North Carolina, and they came in third place.”
The Nor’Easters placed third in their flight, losing also 3-2 to Oklahoma but taking down Hawaii 5-0, then went on to face the other third-place finishers with the possibility of placing ninth overall, the best outcome they could enjoy. After taking care of business against Florida (3-2) and Mid-Atlantic (4-1), the Nor’Easters took ninth best in the country.
“I thought our boys doubles did very well — they never lost a match,” Tracy says of his boys, Chris Kirkpatrick, Dan Cunningham, Alec McNiff and Nico Limacher. “They beat a team from North Carolina that hasn’t lost a match together for two years, and they beat them. We had some good boys singles matches, and there were some really good singles players down there, so that was tough.”
Tracey’s girls, Rachel Downey, Maggie Holland, Molly Alvino, Alexandra and Ashley Sulkin, also won a couple matches, and his team had some good mixed doubles matches as well, but it was his boys who were dominant down south.
“We dominated pretty good, I’d say,” says Kirkpatrick, 16, a Newburyport High junior. “North Carolina and Oklahoma were tough matches. Oklahoma was our first match down there. We got down early but ended up coming back in the third-set tiebreaker to win. It was a really good match because they were really good. North Carolina was solid and Hawaii was decent, too.”
The key to the Nor’Easters’ success, according to Kirkpatrick, is when they got aggressive, something that Tracy stresses.
“When we started getting to the net, we started winning the points and taking control of the match, and that’s what made us win,” says Kirkpatrick. “We had better volleys than the rest of the other teams down there. We got to the net better than the other teams. We gave North Carolina a good run. They won our flight and came in third place. So we were pretty close to them, I think, one more step and we could have beat them.”
Kirkpatrick and his teammates also got to meet other kids from all over the U.S., saying that the kids from Oklahoma and Hawaii were the best.
“I had an awesome time, it was really fun,” says Kirkpatrick. “I got to hang out with all the kids on the team at the hotel and just hang around, watching college football games, swam in the pool, it was really good.”
Another highlight of the tournament was Limacher, 17 of West Newbury, winning the sportsmanship award.
“It’s him, his personality, his parents and how they raised him,” Tracy says of Limacher. “He’s very generous. He doesn’t hit tennis balls when he is mad. He doesn’t bang his raquet. He just has good etiquette, he’s just a good kid. He won this award two years ago in the sectionals too. It’s obviously somewhere in his blood, good parenting probably.”
After doing what they could under the flight system, Tracy says he is satisfied with his squad and what they accomplished.
“The kids played really well,” Tracy says of his players. “They did well under pressure. Because it’s pretty stressful from them to do such a big thing under that pressure. I’m happy with the way they played, I think they had fun. They learned a lot, so I’m very happy.”