By: Drew Hendrickson, Director of Tennis, Fitness, and Summer Programs
The Tenacity Middle School Tennis League gets under way in mid-October, and this season promises to have all the drama, intrigue, and multi-faceted story lines that fans throughout the city have come to expect.
The first match of the season will have the defending Crane Cup champ Curley Flying Lions traveling to Constitution Beach to play the Umana Eagles. That will be on Wednesday October 11th. The following day, the Irving Warriors head over to Harbor Point to take on the McCormack Panthers. The Frederick will enjoy a bye week, and will begin their season a little later in the month.
Without any further ado, let’s begin the preseason power rankings countdown.
5. The John W. McCormack Panthers
The McCormack Panthers rank 5th preseason. The Panthers were held together last year by a strong 8th grade class that has now moved on to various best-fit high schools. Moving on with them was every staff member on the team. So with the shelves bare, the McCormack looks to rebuild this year. 1st year Coach Tien Tran has jumped into action, and is building positive momentum. He seeks to lead his team back to the glory they enjoyed in winning the Crane Cup in 2016.
Leading their team’s attack will be Emmanuel George, a Staniar Open veteran and Jomar Baez, who has tennis success ingrained deeply into his bones as his brother Marvin won the Crane Cup 1st singles flight last year, and another brother Jordi also enjoyed his share of success in years past. Jordan Smith, Endy Ventura and Ricky Gaylor could also be impact 8th graders if they find their tennis focus.
4. The Lilla G. Frederick Panthers
The LGF grabs the 4th spot in the preseason power rankings. Like the McCormack, the Frederick has an entirely new staff team, but both 1st year Coach Eglis and 1st year Site Director MyTien Hyunh are bringing new levels of energy and expectations to the site.
Returning 8th graders Worknesh Bekele and Kayla Clark-Calderon will be strong leaders for this squad as will Rakim Austin, Stephanie Deas, and Jade Moses. With these and other strong 8th grade leaders, the Frederick has the potential to make some serious noise this upcoming season. Their success will depend on how well they can focus their efforts and make the most of their practices. So far, they are off to a great start.
Buoyed by a great team of AmeriCorps fellows and some terrific early season practices, many long-suffering Frederick fans are expressing some cautious optimism about 2017-2018.
3. Washington Irving Warriors
Ranked 3rd in our preseason poll are the Washington Irving Warriors, and these guys are poised to have a bust out season this year.
Angel Vega, Erick Zhanay, Rafael Diaz, Samuel Anilus, Joe Palomin and Shakeem Richards are just a few of the names that are so well known in MSTL circles. Add to that up-and-comers Saiya Johnson, Anaya Vega, Sapienta Delius, and Ta’lah Rodgers and you’ve got yourself a squad that’s battle-tested, deep, and hungry for some real success.
This is the first 8th grade class in recent history for the Irving and they finally have the edge they’ve been looking for. As if that weren’t enough, they’ve also added transfers Antonio Hall and Veronnah Naijuuko to even further bolster that 8th grade leadership.
But the MSTL history books are full of stories of what could have been. Teams with tons of potential so often wane as the year wears on. It will be up to 1st year Coach Burke Paxton to keep the bar of expectations high for this team and make sure they stay motivated throughout the year.
Coach Burke does have a secret weapon, however. Tristan Norbert is the only Site Director with a Crane Cup Championship (2015) on his resume, and any true MSTL fan would count on Norbert’s wisdom as a big plus for the Warriors program.
2. Mary E. Curley Flying Lions
For the casual fan, it may seem crazy that the Curley Flying Lions are not the top-ranked team coming into this year. They won both the Staniar Open and the Crane Cup last year, and they are the only site whose head coach is back for another season. That they also return their site director is more reason for head-scratching at this #2 ranking.
It’s true the Curley has built a strong tradition, and has emerged as a perennial powerhouse. Returning 8th grader Rain Twohads is a Crane Cup tested champ, and Nayshawn Niles is also an experienced competitor.
As history teaches us, however, MSTL success often depends not only on one or two star players, but on a deep class of committed athletes. That’s what made the Curley so tough last year. With only five 8th graders on their roster this year, the most debated question around the league is who on that Curley team is going to step up.
Could Stiven Birenbaum, who worked on his game this summer at Tenacity’s advanced site in West Roxbury, answer that call? Or might Christian Gonzalez or Madyuf Boursiquot rise to the occasion? It might even be a 7th grader or two who, fueled by their championship at the Staniar Open, see themselves as leaders of this year’s squad. Only time and hard work will tell.
Rest assured Curley fans, you’re in good hands with Coach Payne, but it will take a lot of hard work and commitment to match the success the Flying Lions enjoyed in last year’s historic run.
1. Mario Umana Academy Eagles
For those still wondering why the Curley didn’t grab the pre-season top spot, here’s the answer: John Le, Robert Kubinec, Ana Ventura, Gabriel Soriano, Kevin Argueta, and Braydon Flores.
This was the Umana’s Crane Cup team from last year, and they are all back this year, hoping to do just a little bit better than last year’s second place finish.
1st year Coach Mike Dolph begins his career with one of the best rosters the league has seen in years, and his challenge will be managing those high expectations.
Early reports are positive for Coach Dolph and his team, as many students throughout the program are pushing themselves to improve and be able to represent the school in team tennis matches and the tournaments.
7th grader Perla Ortiz is a perfect example of this extra effort. She worked hard at her game throughout the summer, becoming a fixture at Constitution Beach, one of Tenacity’s summer sites in Eastie. She even represented Constitution in the Team Tennis Championships this summer.
Another 7th grader, Elijah Canales, who represented the Umana at the Staniar Open last year, is also poised to have a great season.
Overall, the depth and experience of the Umana Eagles make them the team to beat, but no amount of talent and no list of preseason rankings could ever count as much as good old-fashioned hard work. That is the most important element of success, and it’s available to every player and coach in the league. The question is: which team will work the hardest for this year’s championship?