JAFFREY — The Conant girls’ tennis team faced an uphill battle this season.
The Orioles, after all, graduated their top four players — Nicci Munroe, Alexys Smith, Kusum Aryal and Delaney Hirsch — and featured a returning roster with no upperclassmen.
But the young squad surprised even Coach Jody Baker with how well it did. The team not only clinched a spot in the Division III tournament, but secured the No. 4 seed and a home date in the first round.
The Orioles host No. 5 Profile in a first-round match today at 3:30 p.m.
“I’m thrilled that we made it this far,” Baker said. “Really didn’t expect it, but I’m thrilled that they get to have this experience, because I think they can build on it and grow from here.”
Sophomore Sarah Smith leads the way for Conant, having made the jump from No. 5 singles last year to the top spot in this year’s lineup. Fellow returning sophomores Abigail Wheeler, Elizabeth Gonyea and Kayley Bennett also jumped up four spots from their previous place in the singles lineup, and now playing No. 1 through No. 4, respectively.
Newcomers Emily Muilenberg, Lily Bower and Victoria Bennett have helped fill out the roster. “(Players) five, six and seven (Muilenberg, Bower and Victoria Bennett), who all played a lot, we had to teach them how to keep score and how to serve,” Baker said.
Having already exceeded expectations with a playoff berth, the young squad now continues its effort to keep up the program’s winning tradition. Conant has made it to the state finals in four of the past five years, and earned a championship in 2016.
Profile provides an interesting first test; an unknown opponent the Orioles haven’t played in this or any recent season.
With no information on where the toughest or most favorable matchups will be, the team will once again be looking for everyone to step up to this challenge, its coach said.
“They’re just gonna have to go out there and believe in themselves,” Baker said. “We don’t really know how we’re gonna stack up (against Profile), but if we go out there and play our best, I’m gonna be proud of them and we’re gonna get experience.
“I think, in my gut, this is gonna be a close match, either way.”