Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Junior Francois Venne chose doubles over singles, but freshman Ian Fishman was just hoping to get into the lineup as a newcomer to the Northampton boys tennis team.
In preseason competition, their styles of play meshed and what coach Ken Hahn feared was going to be a difficult ladder to build, fell into place.
“We started to have challenge matches and things started to percolate and the pecking order gets establish,” Hahn said. “They were a very natural team. They clicked and liked each other. ... They really want to play doubles and they wanted to play together. That was a good foundation to play off of.”
At first doubles, the duo became a dominate force and a point the team could count on. They led the Blue Devils into the postseason and, as an unranked team, reached the semifinal round of the Western Massachusetts individual doubles tournament. For their efforts, Venne and Fishman have been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Boys Tennis Players of the Year.
“These two guys were guys I could rely on pretty consistently,” Hahn said. “I felt like they had the potential to be the best doubles team in Western Mass. It was great to see it coming to pass on the court and when the kids got in a total grove, everything was clicking.”
Venne, a veteran Blue Devil, had a sharp all-around game, but his net skills made doubles a natural fit. Fishman’s talent quickly caught the attention of Hahn. He took pointers from his partner and coach and saw improvements on the court.
“I think they really grew as the season went along,” Hahn said. “Francois really upped his game tremendously in all aspects. ... Ian really became much more a battle-tested player that learned how to win and that’s something you don’t know initially.”
From the get-go, it was the way the other’s game filled the gaps in his partner’s that made the duo work.
“Our games seemed to match pretty well,” Fishman said. “I was more of a baseline player, and he was pretty good at the net because he was extremely tall.”
Since the Blue Devils played strong teams — Minnechaug and Longmeadow — to open the season, it took a few matches for the first doubles pair to meld together.
Venne and Fishman started 0-2, but a win over South Hadley got them going.
“After the first two matches (against Minnechaug and Longmeadow) we definitely thought we weren’t doing too great but we did know those were the toughest teams in the league,” Fishman said. “We played some of the easier teams which built up our confidence for when we got back to playing some of the harder teams.”
A month later, with the postseason quickly approaching, the Blue Devils needed a win to make the playoffs. Hahn and Venne both said the match at Amherst Regional on May 7 was the turning point in the season at first doubles.
Venne and Fishman fought for a 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 win to earn Hamp’s second point in a 3-2 win.
“It was a pretty pivotal match because if we didn’t win that match, we wouldn’t have gotten into the postseason,” Venne said. “We played very well together and it was starting to come together. We were feeding off of each other.”
As an unseeded entry in the Western Mass. individual tournament, the duo needed three wins to make it to the second day. They quickly dismissed an unranked team from Monument Mountain, 6-0, 6-3, before running into the seeded contenders.
“We weren’t expected to win two matches because we weren’t seeded,” Venne said.
They took the sixth-ranked Lee team of Mike Eckert and Matt Kelley to a third set and won 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, to advance to the quarterfinals.
There, No. 3 Danny St. John and Dan Siegelman of Amherst were waiting for the third meeting of the season. The two sides had split during the season, but the Northampton side was playing its third match of the day. Exhausted, Hamp earned a 6-3, 6-1 win to advance to the semifinals.
“Playing Amherst was just sort of automatic,” Fishman said. “I didn’t really think about anything at all and it was just there. We played really great. I think it was because our minds were just exhausted, that we really had no mental state to be disappointed or to be freaking out about anything, or at least that’s how it was for me. That helped us win in straight sets.”
Their run came to an end with a 6-3, 6-3 loss to Longmeadow’s Jacob Freedman and Jeff Thor, the No. 2 seed.
“I was really happy for them, but I wasn’t shocked they were doing as well as they were doing because they are really good tennis players and they are really good team,” Hahn said.
Sarah Moomaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Miele, junior, South Hadley
Alex Zimbalist, sophomore, Northampton
Andrew Zyskowski, sophomore, Amherst
Danny St. John, senior, & Dan Siegelman, junior, Amherst
Francois Venne, junior, & Ian Fishman, freshmen, Northampton
Nathan Drewniak, junior, Holyoke Catholic
Aidan Leith, senior, Amherst
Dante Pio, junior, South Hadley
Ethan Smith, senior, Belchertown
Ben Aylward & Brian Modzelesky, freshmen, Holyoke Catholic
Jack Stinson, senior, & Ryan Stinson, junior, Belchertown