READING — Toughness and grit.
That and a lot of ibuprofen and trainers’ tape was the difference in yesterday’s Division 3 North semifinal match for the No. 6 Lynnfield Pioneers girls tennis team, which defeated No. 2 seed and host Austin Prep, 3-2, to punch its ticket to the North final for a fifth straight year.
With the score tied at 2-2, the match came down to the final set of the second doubles match between the Pioneers Claire Yang and Celeste Joly (playing with a heavily-taped wrist for tendonitis) and Cougars Jackie Chouinard and Mia Bramante. They split the first two sets with Pioneer pair taking the first set, 6-3, and the Cougar duo taking the second set, 6-4.
Yang/Joly left nothing to chance in the deciding set, with two service breaks in the first four games to race out to a 4-0 lead. After trading the next two sets, Lynnfield closed it out with another service break to take the set 6-1, and send the Pioneers into the north final against the winner of Sunday’s semifinal match between No. 1 Manchester-Essex and No. 5 Academy of Notre Dame.
“They rolled in the first set and I was thinking it would be a straight set match, but once they lost the middle set, I was hoping they could get out early in the third set,” said Pioneers coach Craig Stone. “They are still just sophomores, and can get tight, but they had a great start in that third set and finished strong. I would say that instead of riding out that wave they just were riding out the ‘Claire’. She played well and Celeste, what can you say, when you have tendinitis, it hurts every time you hit the ball, but she showed a lot of mental and physical toughness and true grit and I think adrenaline just kicked in and carried her.”
The Pioneers came into the match banged-up with Joly, Bela Ferreira and Nevils all nursing injuries. Nevils was forced to retire after dropping the first set, 6-1, to Marie-Elana Gerety, giving the Cougars a quick 1-0 lead.
Ferreira fired right back, dominating the third singles match to defeat Danielle Abdennour at love, 6-0, 6-0, to get the Pioneers on the board.
Austin Prep regained the lead at 2-1 with a 6-0, 7-6 (7-5) win at second singles by Silvanna Salines over Pioneer junior captain Alexa Vittiglio.
All eyes turned to the first doubles match. Lynnfield’s Gillian Skelley and Emma Gallucci broke Cougar partners Jenna Costello and Mia Ham to take the first set, 7-5, then cruised in the second set, 6-3, to level the match at two-all, leaving Yang/Joly in the spotlight.
Winning is the rule rather than the exception when it comes to Lynnfield tennis. In Stone’s 38 years coaching the team, the Pioneers have played in the North finals 26 times. This semifinal match however, had a special feel to it, as evidenced by a jubilant Stone after Yang/Joly secured the decisive point.
“With one senior, Bela, who had never really played competitively before and one junior, Alexa, who played mostly second doubles last year, I do feel this year’s team was so inexperienced, but they absolutely overachieved, and they did it because all 15 varsity players are very coachable,” said Stone. “Considering we were battling injuries today, and we had lost to Austin Prep before, this definitely felt more like we had won the North final and that is a credit to their hard work. They all have great attitudes,so win or lose, I knew we would be singing on the bus on our way back to Lynnfield.”