Back where they belong

Back where they belong

North Providence girls’ tennis squad returns to D-III after nearly winning last year’s title

NORTH PROVIDENCE – You’d figure that posting a two-year regular-season record of 30-3 and coming within an eyelash of winning the Division III championship last season would have earned the North Providence High girls’ tennis team a promotion to Division II during the RIIL’s offseason realignment.

But while defending champion Middletown, 2006 champ East Providence, and Classical were among the teams who were shipped to the state’s middle division, the Cougars were allowed to stay put.

“We were in Division II the six years before (the 2016 season),” veteran NP head coach Jerry Rubino said. “I think we won a total of 22 matches, and we had some strong teams during that time. We might have been right on the cusp (of getting promoted to Division II during the offseason), but this is where we belong.”

The Cougars went 16-1 last year to capture the Division III-B regular-season title, but if they plan to repeat as regular-season champs this season, they’re going to have to do so in a 16-team Division III that features two newcomers to the RIIL scene, Times2 Academy of Providence and Johnston.

“There are some very good teams in this division,” said Rubino, whose crew will take on each squad once. “St. Ray’s is a very good team, and I think they are going to be the top team. I know Pilgrim and Woonsocket will be really good, and there are a bunch of teams that are also very good.”

The Cougars, who have 30 players on their roster this year, also welcomed an assistant coach to the program, Dave Centracchio, who is also the head coach of the school’s boys’ team. He will handle the new-look junior varsity squad, which currently has six matches on its schedule.

“This is my 30th year coaching high school tennis, the last 28 at North Providence and the two before that at Bay View, and I’ve never had an assistant,” said Rubino. “I’ve always done it alone. But this is the first year (with an assistant coach) and it’s phenomenal. And Dave’s a tremendous coach; I’m very happy to have him with me.”

NP graduated six of its top seven starters from last year’s team that was a mere tiebreaker away from defeating Middletown in the Division III title game. But the four starters that are returning, senior captains Tina Chen and Olivia Kooloian and juniors Mary-Catherine Fornaro (pictured) and Riley-Kate Pappas, were Second-Team All-Division selections last year.

Fornaro, who is a three-year starter, moves up to first singles after starting in the number two spot last year. Kooloian is making a monstrous leap from second doubles to second singles, as is Pappas, who jumps from third doubles to third singles. Freshman standout Olivia Fontaine rounds out the singles lineup.

Chen, meanwhile, is moving up from third to second doubles and is joined by classmate Mariama Diallo. The first doubles team features juniors Adrianna Gianquitti and Hannah Doorley, and the third doubles team is senior Sarah Taylor and junior Julia Jasper.

The Cougars began their season on Tuesday, Sept. 4, at their Olney Park courts by rolling to a 7-0 victory over Coventry, and the Cougars’ doubles teams were able to capture their matches with ease. Gianquitti and Doorley teamed up to post a 6-0, 6-1 win and the teams of Chen-Diallo and Jasper-Taylor netted 6-1, 6-0 victories.

Also winning their matches in straight sets were NP’s singles players. Fontaine kicked off her varsity career by producing an easy 6-0, 6-2 victory, and Fornaro (6-1, 6-3), Kooloian (7-5. 6-3), and Pappas (6-4, 6-4) also played well.

“We got off to a great start in our match with Coventry,” said Rubino. “We played really well. We still have a lot of question marks – a lot of people are playing in new positions – but we’re getting there.”

“The goal obviously is to get a winning record and return to the playoffs,” added Rubino. “We have a long way to go, but I like what I see so far. I think we’re further along than I thought we would be at this point, so we’ll see what happens.”

The Cougars, who were scheduled to host Rogers on Tuesday afternoon, will hit the road for matches against Woonsocket today at 4:15 p.m. at Cumberland’s Tucker Field and Providence Country Day on Friday at 4 p.m.