When the Springfield College men’s tennis team took to the courts this season, there were a lot of unfamiliar faces.
The Pride’s nine-man squad includes five freshmen: Kyle Andolina, Kyle Beynor, Justin Danielewicz, Tanner DeVarennes and Nate Weissman. Four of the freshmen compete in the starting line-up, leaving two returning team members to fill the two remaining spots.
According to head coach Toby Coffin, this is an impressive feat due to the fact that transitioning to the higher level of a collegiate sport can sometimes be challenging.
“It says a lot that they are new to college tennis,” said Coffin, “and that they’re talented enough to be in the starting line-up. The fact that we have four freshmen in the starting line-up is fantastic for the program.”
DeVarennes is the team’s No. 1. He said that although the collegiate level is definitely a step up from high school or the other tournaments he is used to competing in, he has enjoyed his time on the team so far.
“It’s definitely a lot harder, but it’s a lot of fun and I like it,” DeVarennes said. “It challenges you every day. Every competitor is going to go out there and give it their all. They’re not going to give up halfway through the match. You really have to finish matches. Here you have to win all 12 games and fight for every point.”
The transition hasn’t been the easiest for DeVarennes, who suffered an ankle injury during the men’s fall season that sidelined him for several months. Although he still feels the effects of injury, the freshman has rebounded to post a singles’ record of 7-4. He also pairs with senior captain Joe Giannelli at the No. 1 doubles spot. So far this season, the two have earned a 6-5 doubles’ record.
“Playing with Tanner has been great,” Giannelli said. “He pushes me to raise the level of my playing because he competes at such a high level.”
The Pride’s youngest players have accounted for at least 20 singles’ wins this season and have contributed at least 13 points from doubles. Giannelli said that while this year felt like starting over after last year, when the team graduated two starting seniors, strong showings by the underclassmen will only provide a foundation for the future of the team.
“Next year the four who are in the starting line-up will only be sophomores,” the team captain said. “They will continue to improve over the next three years.”
Coffin emphasized that the commitment of college tennis is more than just about the sport itself and that there are many other lessons to be learned.
“I want to teach them more than tennis,” Coffin said. “I want to teach them about hard work, obviously, and other life skills that can translate outside of tennis.”
The chemistry between the players on the court is noticeably different than it has been in the past years, Coffin said, which is one reason why he believes his team is so successful.
“I think both the men’s and women’s teams get along really well together,” Coffin said. “That fact really helps both programs.”
So far this season, the men have compiled a record of 6-7, though they are still winless in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference. They have three more matches before their season finishes out, and next take on UMass Dartmouth tonight at home.
For the Pride’s newest players, though, any experience playing is just a chance to further develop a team dynamic and become more comfortable with high-paced play, both with opponents and with each other.
“I think we can all learn from each other,” DeVarennes said. “We can grow together and I think, in a year or two, we’ll be really good.”
Alanna Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org