No Home Courts, No Real Problem
By Christopher Tremblay
Staff Sports Writer
The Hopedale girls’ tennis team continues to put up wins despite not having a home court to play on.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) has nullified the Blue Raiders courts to be played on, leaving Hopedale to take all of its games on the road.
According to Hopedale Athletic Director Stephanie Ridolfi, the lines on the tennis courts are not accurate, making them illegal to play on, as well as being in pretty poor shape. Unfortunately, the school doesn’t have the resources to fund the upgrade leaving the tennis teams to take all of their would-be home games on the road.
While the Blue Raiders are forced to make every game an away game where the athletes have to board a bus and travel instead of walking down the street to the Hopedale Junior-Senior High School tennis courts, the girls continue to make the best of the situation.
“It takes a toll on the girls having to get on a bus all the time instead of playing at home,” Blue Raider Coach Art Riffo said. “But they are trying to not let it bother their play.”
Hopedale, as of this writing, has continued to play strong tennis and is currently sitting high atop the DVC with an overall record of 7-1 and in addition to doing it away from its home base, is playing with six new tennis players to the team, five of whom had no experience prior to the season getting underway.
“Coming into the year with this many new girls on the team I was honestly hoping that we’d go .500 on the year,” the Coach said. “But the chemistry of the team has been fantastic, and things have been going our way.”
Riffo continued to say that the girls are building a love for the game, are willing to learn and are putting in a lot of effort during practices. With only 12 players, only two of which are seniors and of the seven starters, three had not official match play before this year.
Riffo is developing a young team (6 eighth-graders, 2 freshman, 2 sophomores and 2 seniors) that has the raw talent to learn and eventually take their game to the next level.
Leading the charge for the Blue Raiders on rivalry courts are the Obrador sisters, Pia, and Eva. Although older sister Eva, a senior, is playing second singles for Hopedale while putting up an impressive season with only one loss, it is Pia who is the team’s number one player at first singles. The younger Obrador began playing for the Blue Raiders last spring as a seventh-grader in the number one slot and was able to manage 10 wins.
“As our number one singles player she is going up against mostly seniors and although she was nervous at first playing at this level, she didn’t let it bother her,” Riffo said. “This year as an eighth-grader she is much more confident in her play and so far, has gone undefeated. She is definitely a role model for the rest of the team.”
Rounding out the singles players in the third spot is senior Samantha Pannenborg. The senior has only fallen to her opponents once thus far. Along with the elder Obrador, the duo are Hopedale’s captains during the year of travel. Coach Riffo doesn’t work in the Hopedale school system, so his captains are his chain of communication, and the duo does a very good job at communicating for their Coach.
On the doubles circuit Hopedale has sophomores Callie Constanza and Abigail Aldrich playing first doubles together for the first time this season. Constanza has played doubles in the past, but Aldrich is new to the position. But that hasn’t affected their play as the two have blanked their opponents thus far.
Second doubles is made up of Kate Friesema and Gabrielle Leet, two athletes with completely different styles of play, but they work very well together. Friesema is currently only playing in her second year and was the team’s Rookie of the Year last spring and has developed her skills in just one year of play.
“I emphasize communicating as the key on the court when playing doubles,” Riffo said. “You’ve got to know where the other is going and both groups have been communicating really well so far this season.”
Sitting at 7-1, one game past the midway mark of the season, Riffo knows that his team still has some tough opponents on the upcoming schedule, but he is optimistic about his team’s overall performance.
“My original thought was 10 wins to get us into the tournament and we should have no problem accomplishing that,” the Hopedale Coach said. “Teams are still hurting from the Pandemic, but as long as we stay healthy, we’ll be all right. The girls really believe in themselves; they like the sport and are all trying their hardest to learn the game.”
While his young team continues to defy odds on foreign tennis courts the Blue Raiders Coach is amazed at how fast his athletes have picked up the game. With the majority of the girls picking up a racket for the first time in their careers, the sky is the limit for what they can accomplish.
“It’s all up to them,” Riffo said. “I’m only here to give them the tools, they’re the ones that are running with it.”
Riffo is hoping that his young team runs with it all the way to the State Tournament despite not being able to play at home in front of their fans.