Sometimes, all a team needs is a fair shot.
That’s how ConVal boys’ tennis Coach Michael Young feels, at least.
His Cougars are headed to the Division II team tournament for the first time in five years — starting today at 4 p.m. with a first-round match at Souhegan in Amherst — and Young says that success is owed in part to some new scheduling changes implemented by the league this year.
In years past, it was a lot more common for teams to play opponents twice over the course of a season. This resulted in some teams — including ConVal — having significantly harder schedules, playing top-tier opponents twice while other schools wouldn’t play them at all.
“Apparently, what happened was a lot of schools complained that they were better than the teams that were getting into the playoffs, and the reason was their schedule was just so much tougher,” Young said. “To give you an example, in 2009, when Connor Hyde was a senior and won the state (individual singles) tournament, we were 7-7 as a team, and yet we had the most dominant player at No. 1 singles for that year.”
This year, teams would play opponents only once each, with a few exceptions when one opponent wouldn’t be available and another would have to fill in. Under this new system, ConVal went 8-6 and clinched the sixth seed in the division.
Leading the Cougars into the postseason is junior and first singles player Zach Kriebel, who posted a 9-5 individual record. He also went 11-3 in first doubles alongside fellow junior Taylor Burgess, the team’s third singles player. Young said he expects both his top singles player and his top doubles pair to qualify for the individual state tournament, which starts June 1.
Souhegan, the third seed and defending state champion in Division II, is one of just two teams that ConVal did play twice this season (the other being Pelham). The Sabers (11-3) proved to be a tough opponent for the Cougars, winning both matchups – 6-3 on April 2 and 8-1 on May 8.
Souhegan is led by Sam Goddard, one of the top players in the state and one of the toughest opponents Kriebel has faced (responsible for two of his five losses).
Young said he knows the odds aren’t in his team’s favor in this match, but with a young squad that’ll be graduating no players at the end of the year, he’ll be happy if they can compete, learn and grow from this experience.
All he wants is a fair shot.
“I hope we do better this time around,” Young said. “If we get a 6-3 or 5-4 (loss) out of it, I’ll be happy, and if we beat them, of course, you’ll hear me scream.”