By BOB YORK –
Dave Dickinson knows tennis. More specifically, the veteran coach knows Deerfield Academy girls tennis. He should, as he’s been at the helm of the Big Green program for nearly a quarter of a century. During that time span, Dickinson has never suffered through a losing season … never lost more than three games in the same season. And it shows, he has tutored his charges to a record of 213-49.
This year’s team really had him fooled, though.
“This was one of the youngest teams I’ve ever coached at Deerfield,” said Dickinson of a squad that featured three freshmen, three sophomores, one junior and three seniors, two of whom were on the JV team last year. “I figured we’d take our lumps this season, learn from them and move on.”
Well, Dickinson was right, well, sort of. His Big Green girls dropped their opener to Groton, 6-3, “but I really didn’t think too much about it at the time,” the Deerfield mentor would confess. “Groton always has a strong girls tennis program, so an opening-day loss to them didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary.”
It was though. It proved to be Deerfield’s first – and last – loss of the season. The Big Green would move on to chalk up eight straight wins to finish with an 8-1 regular-season record and earned its second straight invite to the New England Prep School Athletic Council Girls Tennis Tournament.
“It says a lot about our season,” said Dickinson. “ Invitations to the NEPSAC tourney are awarded not only for wins and losses but for a team’s strength of schedule as well. This is the second year this tourney has been in existence and the second year that we’ve competed in it, so that’s something we can really be proud of.”
Despite falling to top seed and eventual champion Milton, 7-1, in the first round, another fact the Big Green can be proud of is that of the eight teams that qualified for the tournament’s A Division, only two, Deerfield and Taft represented the western New England area.
Instead of the rebuilding program Dickinson was expecting, Deerfield simply ended up reloading. While registering its 8-1 record, the Big Green players dominated their foes throughout the campaign, posting a record of 56-10 during singles and doubles competition. Up on the scoreboard, meanwhile, that 56-10 showing translated into numerous one-sided victories.
Following its opening-day loss to Groton, the closest an opponent would come to defeating Deerfield was the 6-3 margin Taft was able to muster. From there, Loomis fell, 7-2, while four other teams could manage just one point to the cause, while two were shut out.
“Looking back, it was a really incredible season,” said Dickinson. “Here I was thinking that we’d be starting from scratch and gaining experience for the future and the future was now. These kids worked hard, believed in each other and just kept getting better every time they went out on the court. It was amazing to watch them progress week-to-week right in front of your eyes.”
Dickinson’s murderer’s row consisted of Serena Ainslie (16), who made the jump from number five last year to number one this spring, where she posted a 6-3 record. Margaret McGraw (15), who was elected captain of next year’s team, occupied the number-two singles slot and cruised to an 8-1 mark, while Katherine Heaney (16) chalked up an undefeated 9-0 showing at number-three singles.
Charlotte Allen (14) finished up her career for the Big Green with a 6-3 record at number-four singles. Winston Rossetter (17), meanwhile, made her debut on the varsity level in the fifth spot and went 8-1.
Deerfield’s doubles competition was equally impressive this spring, as Dickinson described his triple double attack this spring as “three extremely strong teams.” His number-one combo of Ainslie and McGraw recorded an 8-1 showing on the season. The second unit, which consisted of Alyssa Moreau (14) and Heaney went 8-1 as well and accounted for the lone Deerfield point during its tourney setback to Milton. The third tandem, meanwhile, put Charlotte Allen (14) and Olivia Mehm (14) on the court together and they worked wonders as well, finishing the season with an 8-1 record.
“Looking back, this was really quite a season,” said Dickinson. “It’s just amazing when you think about not only how well these kids did, but how much they improved over the course of the season and just how quickly they began to show marked improvement … throughout the entire lineup.”