By BOB YORK
Things were looking a little bleak for the Deerfield Academy boys tennis program as it headed into preseason training camp. And no, the Deerfield River hadn’t overflowed its banks again this spring and left 10 feet worth of surf, sand and silt on the Big Green’s courts. This Deerfield squad’s home was high and dry, but the team’s footing was a bit in question.
For one of the few times since Jay Morsman began coaching varsity tennis at Deerfield 27 years ago, graduation had stolen his top three players: George Wheatley, Alex Ward and Robert Long, who, combined, had produced a 30-9 record during their good-bye tour.
With that gaping hole at the top of the lineup, there was just one way to fill it. Move last year’s fourth-, fifth- and sixth-seeds up three spots each and hope for the best. Well, it didn’t take Morsman long to switch gears from hoping it would work, to knowing it would work.
“We got off to a great start,” said Gil Roddy (14), who made the jump from fourth to first in a breeze and helped spark the Big Green to an overall record of 13-3 this spring and would later be compensated for his efforts by being named winner of the James L. Ford Trophy as the team’s number-one player. “But it was kind of nerve wracking at first because none of us knew how well we’d do having jumped three spots in the lineup … that’s a lot in a year.”
Roddy got plenty of help filling in at the top, however, as Oliver Hopkinson (12), likewise, made a successful leap from fifth to second and Justin Schlacks (13) went from sixth to third without a hitch and then split this year’s Holton Sayce Memorial Award. Schlacks, meanwhile, was also voted next year’s captain by his Big Green teammates.
In addition to not knowing just how well they would do, Roddy, Hopkinson and Schlacks would need their vacated slots filled – and filled well – if they were to have any success this season. “We needed some new faces to come in and take over the vacated fourth, fifth and sixth slots,” said Roddy. “So, in addition to not knowing how we’d do this season, we had no idea how well the new kids would do, either.”
As it turned out, the new kids did quite well for themselves, too, as Cole Horton (14), Luke Therrien (15), and Ed Cullen (12) came in at four through six, respectively, and all three rang up winning records.
“The kids had a truly outstanding season for themselves,” said Morsman, “we needed all the pieces to fall into place this year to have a good showing for ourselves and all those pieces fell right where they had to. Our veterans, all moved up three slots … which is a huge jump to make between seasons … and all made that jump successfully. Then all three of the new kids moved in at four through six and did an outstanding job as well.
“We won 11 in a row at one point in the season, and five of those wins came by 4-3 scores,” Morsman pointed out, “so these kids showed they could play under pressure and still maintain their focus on the game.”
It was Deerfield dominance in doubles play, however, that proved to be the key to its success this spring.
“Coach Morsman always stressed winning the doubles competition,” said Roddy, and not just because doubles always led off the matches.
The key to victory in prep school tennis can be found in simple mathematics. The competition consists of three doubles and six singles matches. The team to win at least two out of three doubles matches would receive one point. The six singles matches were then worth one point each for a total of seven points.
“So, coach Morsman always emphasized winning the single point in the doubles play and then all you had to do to ensure a victory was to split the six singles matches,” said Roddy, who obviously bought into the plan. He and Horton, who made up the No. 2 doubles team, went 15-2 on the season. The first doubles tandem consisted of Hopkinson and Schlacks, while the third team was Therrien and Cullen and they too, finished with winning records.