LYNNFIELD — With six of seven regular starters back for another season, the Lynnfield girls tennis team has high hopes for the 2019 season.
“We’re getting there,” said coach Craig Stone, the 2018 Cape Ann League Coach of the Year, now in his 39th season. “We’re not exactly at full strength with two girls who aren’t 100 percent, but it’s not like last year when we lost so many seniors and had to start from scratch. We’re definitely better off in that respect, especially considering we always have good depth and don’t really have a falloff from top to bottom.”
Last year, the Pioneers’ string of four straight Division 3 North titles was snapped by Manchester-Essex. The Pioneers finished 14-4 in the regular season to earn the No. 6 seed. Lynnfield rattled off wins against Bishop Fenwick (4-1), Swampscott (4-1) and Austin Prep, (3-2), only to be upended by the Hornets in the final, 5-0, who swept every tournament match en route to the state title.
Lynnfield graduated three seniors in captains Makayla Maffeo and Christina Albano along with Brazilian exchange student Bela Ferreira.
Ferreira, dubbed the Pioneers’ “senior surprise” by Stone, was a key player, going 13-6 playing primarily at third singles.
But with their top-two singles players, sophomore Megan Nevils and senior captain Alexa Vittiglio, and both doubles duos, junior Gillian Skelley and sophomore Emma Gallucci and seniors Claire Yang and Celeste Joly back, the Pioneers are primed to make another serious run in the postseason.
Vittiglio and fellow seniors Nina Dunn and Grace Sokop will serve as captains.
Nevils and Vittiglio are back at No. 1 and No. 2 singles. Last year Nevils finished 8-11, while Vittiglio finished 14-7.
Skelley and Gallucci were the only Pioneers selected to the CAL All-League team. They won the CAL Open first doubles title and together were 13-3. Overall, Gallucci finished 18-3, while Skelley finished 15-4.
At second doubles, Yang was 8-2 when paired with Joly, 14-5 overall in doubles and 15-5 overall. Joly finished 10-3 in doubles and 11-3 overall.
Stone said he has a pleasant problem when it comes to filling the third singles slot left vacant by Ferreira.
“Emma and Gillian had such great success last year as partners, so I’m trying to figure out if I can keep them together while not adversely affecting the rest of the lineup,” said Stone. “If they stay together, then it might be Claire or Celeste who’d most likely go up to third singles. But like Gillian and Emma, it’s tough to break up such a successful partnership.”
Stone said several players are in the starting mix.
“We have multiple people competing for a spot depending on how the doubles teams shape up,” Stone said. “Junior Elana Moisidis is the leading candidate for the second doubles position if Yang or Joly moves to singles.
“Nina and Grace have potential and will compete for court time and freshman Anna Radulsky and sophomore Emily Goguen are also in the mix as is sophomore Ava Buonfiglio now that she is out of a boot she’s been in since a basketball injury.”
Stone said he really won’t have a set lineup in place until after all challenge matches are completed.
“Neither Alexa nor Megan has been able to play any challenge matches because of injuries, so technically they return at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, but we have to wait to see how it all stands once they get back,” Stone said.
Under Stone’s guidance, the Pioneers have posted winning seasons in 37 straight years and qualified for the state tournament 38 straight seasons. The only Stone-coached team to post a losing record was his first (1981) when the Pioneers finished 5-7.
As far as the CAL goes, Stone said Manchester-Essex is the cream of the crop.
“They return everyone but one first doubles player, so they will be tough,” Stone said.
The Pioneers open the season at North Andover Monday (3:30).