Tuesday, July 15, 2014
The Amherst Regional girls tennis team has a legacy of having someone in the driver’s seat. For the last two seasons, it’s been senior Nicole McCann at first singles.
This year, she capped her Hurricane career with two Western Massachusetts titles — her third individual and second team. It was the first time she’d won both in the same season despite having the opportunity to each year, but one meant more to her.
“I’m happy I could do both. The team thing was more important,” McCann said. “(But,) it was good that I could beat my sister (again) too.”
For leading the Hurricanes to their second Western Mass. team title in four years and continuing her reign in the individual tournament, McCann has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Girls Tennis Player of the Year, for the third consecutive season.
McCann earned the No. 1 seed in the individual tournament with an undefeated regular season that included not dropping more then two games a set or three games in a match. After a first-round bye, three 6-0, 6-0 decisions propelled her into the semifinals. A 6-2, 6-0 win over Eve Sullivan of Minnechaug set up a rematch of the 2013 Western Mass. title and pitted her against her younger sister, Allison.
“It was kind of weird because we play sets against each other a lot, so I tried not to think about her and that I was just playing the ball and not her,” Nicole McCann said. “It wasn’t the most normal match.”
Nicole prevailed, despite dropping the middle frame for her first lost set of the season, winning 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-4 on May 18.
“I really thought I was going lose,” Nicole McCann said. “Sometimes that helps. If you realize, ‘Wait, I actually could lose this and I don’t have anything else to lose,’ you kind of refocus and stop worrying about losing and actually just start playing. I think that’s how I got through it, just by focusing on every point and trying not to worry about the whole thing.”
A month later, she led the Hurricanes to another victory. In their sixth straight Western Mass. team final against Longmeadow, McCann was the clinching victory for Amherst, with two courts still playing. The final two matches spilt sets and Amherst won each in a third-set tiebreaker to sweep their rival for the second time this season.
“At one point I was little nervous because everyone was close,” she said. “When Hannah (Lang) and Sarah (Knapp) won (at second doubles), I was really happy and I saw my sister and I knew she had won. Then when I won, I realized we won Western Mass. again. Finally. So, it felt really good.”
Making it even sweeter was the opponent.
On May 5, Amherst swept the Lancers and had previously beaten Minnechuag and Northampton. With wins over their three toughest competitors, McCann and her team began to feel like the Western Mass. title was obtainable and the seniors could go out the way they came in — hoisting a team title trophy.
“We had confidence, but we weren’t overconfident,” McCann said. “Everyone wanted to improve their games individually and not really take anything for granted.”
The title-clinching match, a 6-0, 6-0 win over the Lancers No. 1 singles player Suzanne Elfman, closed McCann’s Western Mass. career on a high note.
“I think that was the best I played in a high school match. I was aggressive and I was pretty consistent,” she said.
Coupled with her sister at second singles, the McCanns led an aggressive 1-2 punch at the top of the ladder, but Nicole’s leadership continued off the court, which coach C.J. Holt said was one of her best qualities.
“In every way you want her to be a leader, she is,” Holt said. “She set the tone for our team. All the girls would come to practice focused on what they needed to do. They needed to come to work and not just socialize. At the same time, she is the first one to pull kids aside and hit balls, feed them balls to help them improve. She is always supportive of her teammates. She’s the first one to run over and find a court to watch a match after she’s of the court.”
McCann said it was important to take on the leadership role to make sure her record on the court didn’t get in the way of the atmosphere the Hurricanes were trying to set.
“I try not to put myself higher than anybody,” she said. “I cheer for everybody and I actually do believe in everybody because everybody works hard, like even during the off season. I’m lucky to be on a team with people that are that motivated. ... You really have to pay attention to the things you do and say to have a good energy as a team.”
Her four years at Amherst have come to an end, but her tennis career will continue at Wesleyan University next school year.
“It’ll definitely be a challenge because it’s different than high school tennis. It’s more intense,” she said. “The coach has high expectations of everyone. ... I’ll be working hard this summer. I’m not too nervous about it. I’m mostly excited.”
Sarah Moomaw can be reached at email@example.com.
Phoebe Gelbard, sophomore, Northampton
Allison McCann, sophomore, Amherst
Nicole McCann, senior, Amherst
Katie Meon, sophomore, South Hadley
Serena Hayden, sophomore, & Melissa Iczkowski, junior, Holyoke Catholic
Kailey Tobin & Veronica Suchodolski,
Adele Fantasia, senior, Northampton
Saw Garwon, junior, South Hadley
Angela Grabazs, sophomore, Belchertown
Olivia McCulloch, freshmen, Frontier
Nya Saunders, freshmen, Amherst
Sarah Knapp & Hannah Lang,