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Tennis team takes second place at nationals
June 6, 2012
The Community College of Rhode Island tennis team claimed second place in the NJCAA Division III Tennis Championship held in Plano, Texas last month.
The players began their season as strangers, bonded together through challenging practices on an improvised and unsuitable rubber gymnasium court, faced the mounting pressures of a national tournament, and came home after the strongest showing in CCRI tennis history.
In addition to the great finish by the team, each of the Knights did well individually with five players named All-American.
Nick Morin won the No. 6 singles championship (he occupies the sixth position of all the singles players on the team) making him CCRI’s first individual men’s tennis champion, and Mike Fallone was named Division III player of the year.
Tim Holzingernarrowly missed All-American honors but won his final match and gave CCRI a crucial half point to edge out Nassau Community College and take second place.
“Every player contributed,” said Head Coach Deborah Panzica. “Every single person did their thing.”
The Knights tennis team faced some unusual obstacles in coming this far.
The team numbers exactly six players, a tiny roster which meant that every team member had to compete in both singles and doubles matches, although tennis players usually specialize in just one area.
With so few players, any mid-or-late season injury would have meant the forfeiture of both a singles and a doubles event.
The Knights players had two matches a day - a singles match and a doubles match - for the duration of the three-day tournament, sometimes consecutively with a half hour break in between. Matches at this level of play can last anywhere from 45 minutes to about three hours, all outdoors in 95 degree heat.
Fallone and his doubles partner Anthony “Lambo” Lamborghini were both experienced singles players but competed together in doubles play for the first time this season. Despite their inexperience, they crushed regular season rivals Gloucester Community College 6-1, 6-0 to capture the No. 1 doubles title.
“That win felt good because we lost to them twice in the season in the past,” Lamborghini said, “but we’ve gained a lot of experience and we’ve built off of that and that’s how we beat them.”
As the wins piled up and the Knights advanced in the tournament, they began to break school records.
“In CCRI history we’ve never had players in finals in the last day,” Panzica said.
Morin, the No. 6 singles championship winner, said, “I think it was the first time any of us had been to such a big tournament and it was a great experience playing tennis every day and hitting with these guys. We’ve become really close.”
Ross Bouchard, who won All-American honors for fourth singles, described the atmosphere as the team members made their way to the courts for each day’s play.
“Everyone’s in their own world,” he said. “The van ride over to the courts is absolutely silent. You’re getting psyched up.”
Morin added, “… but during your match, everyone from the team is there to back you up.”
With only one sophomore player returning, the Knights tennis team began this season as strangers and had to develop their friendship and team chemistry as the season went on.
“I was really nervous coming into this,” Morin said. “I was worried about getting along with everyone – there are many different personalities. I think it’s amazing that there’s six guys coming together and we all got along really well. I don’t think you find that often.”
The team bonded further in the face of their difficult road schedule. With every game during the regular season taking place outside of New England, they would often pile into a van at 4 or 5 a.m.
CCRI does not have its own tennis court, so at home the team practiced either at Lime Rock Park in Lincoln or on the rubberized floor of the Flanagan Campus field house.Tennis balls react far too actively to thisbouncy surface and players had to wet their shoes to keep from slipping.
“We’re very grateful to have it, but it’s not a tennis surface,” Panzica said. “It’s extremely difficult.”
However it may be this adaptability – playing wherever they can, playing two positions at once – that allowed the Knights to overcome so much of their competition.
“As the season went on and we got a sense of the competition and how well we were doing, I thought we might be able to make a run [for the championship],” Bouchard said. He added, “If you play well and win your matches, the chips will fall where they may.”
With everyone except for graduating sophomore Fallone returning to play next year, Panzica and her players said they are expecting another great season.
“You can’t replace Mike Fallone,” Bouchard said, “you honestly can’t. The guy can do magic with a racquet. But my hope is that with our experience we can go down [to next year’s tournament] with a strengthened roster… my expectations for next year are at least to be in the running for it.”
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