By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — As Newburyport boys tennis co-captains, Dan Orencole and Chris Kirkpatrick should be able to fall back on the memories of their predecessors of the past two years. There’s only one problem: The Clippers didn’t have a captain on the court during that time.
“It’s the first time that we’ve had the chance to have a captain on our team,” said Kirkpatrick, a junior.
Kirkpatrick has been playing varsity since he was a freshman, and Orencole, a senior, has been playing doubles since sophomore year. Both started during the same season two years ago when then-captain Trevor Updike broke his wrist and missed much of the season. Then, last year’s captain Sam Ettenborough tore his ACL in a skiing accident before the season began. Both the previous captains were still available to help their team, but they weren’t playing on the court. Barring any unforseen incidents, Orencole and Kirkpatrick should be able to pick up the slack this year.
“Our coach sets a pretty good example (of leadership),” Orencole said of second-year coach Courtney Gilman. “He’s pretty humble. And Chris Kirkpatrick, seeing him dominate in the USTA in tournaments and stuff, makes us try a bit harder as a unit.”
Kirkpatrick has indeed put together a solid tennis resume, having won four individual USTA titles while playing for the New England Nor’Easters.
“It’s tough to live up to him,” Orencole said of Kirkpatrick. “But using him (in practice) to have kids hit with him helps everyone on the team. Because if you want to get better you have to play with kids that are better than you, and he’s one of the best kids in the Cape Ann League.”
Helping the younger players with their game is the most important job for a captain.
“As captains, we keep the young players at ease,” said Orencole. “We don’t go our hardest at them at certain points because we don’t want to scare them away from the sport. But I think the group is really fun to be around. It’s not really too hard on kids.”
Kirkpatrick, for his part, likes what he sees in newcomers including junior Brendan Crowther and sophomores Cobo Alvarez de Toledo Schlanger, Jake Shactman and Sebastien Basson.
“We’ve got a good up-and-coming athletic group of kids,” said Kirkpatrick. “They can bring us to a good season this year.”
The Clippers advanced to the second round of the tournament two years ago, but missed tournament play last season with a 4-10 record. Orencole’s doubles partner, senior Henry Jacqz, sees those newcomers as a big part of Newburyport returning to tournament action this year.
“It’s a really good group of kids,” said Jacqz. “Kids are getting better very quickly and we’re feeding off each other’s energy, and I think, as the season progresses, we’re going to keep getting better and better. By the time it’s tournament season, we’re going to be better than we are now and we have some skill now.”
One sophomore Orencole sees good things in James Kipp.
“He’s caught my eye the most out of any player,” Orencole said. “He’s improved so much, and I think he may be more of a key player than Chris Kirkpatrick. If he plays well, then we’re going to make the state tournament. We’re just looking for that third guy to get us over the edge, and I think he can do it easily. He’s kind of the future of the team just a couple of years down the road.”
That road begins April 8 when the Clippers host Amesbury.
“We should just build upon what we did last year and try to make it better,” said Kirkpatrick. “Maybe hit .500 and make it to the tournament. We need to come together as a team and just pull out wins.”