NORTH SMITHFIELD – Division III championship or bust.
That’s the goal for this spring’s North Smithfield tennis team. Return to the finals on May 25 at Slater Park – and win. It’s as simple as that.
Going undefeated during the regular season would be nice, and so would be any other regular-season accolades awarded to any of the Northmen, but make no mistake about it – whether this season is deemed a successful one or not will be determined in the title match at the end of the month.
“We want to win the championship,” said third-year head coach Matt Pavao. “I’m not going to be happy with anything else. Going undefeated would be nice, but unless we finish this season with a championship, it’s not worth it. I want to end this season on a happy note.
“I know what our team is capable of doing, and I honestly think anything but a championship is an underachievement.”
Pavao has plenty of reasons to believe his program can win its first Division III title after coming up short four times, from 2004-06 and last year, when the Northmen (12-3) dropped a 4-3 heartbreaker to Middletown that saw the Islanders break a 3-3 tie with a three-set victory in third doubles.
“Obviously, last year was tough, coming that close,” added Pavao, a former standout player at Smithfield High. “I expected them to win, and I knew they were capable of it, but this year, I know we can do it.”
With two-thirds of their regular season in the books, the Northmen are riding high in the Division III-A standings at 8-0 with five shutout victories. They have lost just four matches all year long, and two came in a 5-2 triumph over second-place Narragansett back on April 9.
The Northmen, who are seeking their first unblemished regular season since 2005, will get their biggest test on Monday in North Providence against the Division III-B leading Cougars, who are also 7-0 and have dropped only 13 matches this season.
“We haven’t played many crossover matches, so it will be nice to see (North Providence) and see how good they are,” said Pavao. “It will be a nice gauge to see where we are in terms of how we match up with the other side of the division.”
The Northmen entered this season minus five of their top eight players from a year ago gone to graduation, but Pavao filled in the voids nicely and boasts a talented club that’s guided by their singles players, senior co-captains Matt Meagher and Dalton Kell and juniors Matt Meagher and Ben Degrange, and the No. 1 doubles team of seniors Devan Dube and Keila Strick.
Lachance and Meagher, who were first-team All-Division picks last season, are the Nos. 1 and 2 singles players and have been with Pavao since he took over the team in 2011 and went 11-4. This year, Meagher has won all eight of his matches in straight sets.
Kell, who played first doubles last year, is at No. 3 singles, and Degrange, who like Meagher, has been untouchable in all eight of his matches, rounds out the singles group.
Strick, who is also an All-Division standout on the Northmen’s girls’ soccer and basketball squads, and Dube have only played together in the last three matches, but they have also seized those in straight sets.
“They’re the backbone that’s really carrying us right now,” Pavao added of the six players. “They played year round. They played all summer, and they even went to Rally Point (Racquet Club in Greenville) and played through the winter. They have really set the tone.”
The second and third doubles squads, meanwhile, have been in good hands the past couple of weeks, with juniors Greg Soito and Dan Kasanovich and sophomores Ben Stone and Adam Destefano seeing the bulk of the action.
While the Northmen’s play on the court has been outstanding, so has their team-first attitude and sportsmanship, and Pavao believes that will go a long way in their quest for championship glory come Memorial Day weekend.
“Winning is what’s important to them,” he noted. “They’re very supportive of their teammates. In my three years here, I have very little problems with any of them, and I don’t have to worry about them or swearing on the court or throwing their rackets.
“I can’t complain. This is just a nice, polite group of kids. They work very hard and they’re all dedicated to this team.”