NORTH PROVIDENCE — When the North Providence High girls’ tennis team makes its program’s first appearance in the Division II playoffs this week, the Cougars will do so riding a great deal of momentum and an impressive six-match win streak that includes a victory over a previously-unbeaten opponent.
Last Friday afternoon, the Cougars picked up their fourth win of the week and finished their regular season with a 13-3 record by cruising to a 6-1 triumph over North Smithfield at the Olney Park courts. Senior Alena Rizzo’s 6-0, 6-0 shutout in fourth singles highlighted the win and improved her singles record to 16-0.
The Cougars, who are seeded fourth in the D-II tournament, will begin their postseason quest on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. by facing another 13-3 team, 5th-seeded Mount Hope, in a quarterfinal-round matchup at Roger Williams University.
That winner will advance to Friday’s semifinals to face regular-season champion Portsmouth, which is 15-1 and saw a 13-match win streak get snapped last Tuesday, Oct. 19, by the Cougars, who took advantage of a couple of significant absences in the Patriots’ lineup and rolled to a 5-2 victory at Olney Park.
“They played their best tennis at the end of this regular season,” NP head coach Jerry Rubino noted of his players. “And they had some good wins. They beat Mount Hope and South Kingstown a few weeks ago, 4-3, and obviously, Portsmouth.”
Rubino noted that the Patriots went into that match minus their second singles player and a player on their first doubles team, and while Portsmouth had to deal with shuffling its lineup around, the visitors were still a tough opponent.
Senior third singles player Paula Zhuang, who will head into the postseason with a 15-1 record, picked up a big 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory, and also taking a marathon match for NP by scores of 5-7, 7-6 (4), and 10-6 was the second doubles team of junior Eva St. Germain and sophomore Maria Fontaine.
Rizzo also netted a 6-0, 6-1 win, the third doubles tandem of senior Cristina Alcala and junior Jillian Dufault was a 6-4, 6-0 winner, and sophomore Stephanie Jordan, who owns an 11-5 record in second singles, won a close match by 6-4, 6-4 scores.
“We caught a big break because they were missing those two players, so that obviously made a big difference,” said Rubino, whose squad kicked off last week’s action with a 5-2 win at Narragansett, “But it was still a great win. You still have to play the teams that are in front of you, and the girls played great.”
Speaking of Alcala and Dufault, they were the only players in action on Thursday at Olney Park. The Cougars concluded a match on that afternoon with Mount Saint Charles Academy from the previous Thursday that was suspended by darkness with the score tied at 3-3 and Alcala and Dufault holding a 6-4, 5-5 lead over Mount’s Reagan McGrath and Kaylee Thrul.
But the action didn’t last long, for Alcala and Dufault teamed up to win the only two games that took place to sew up the match and send the Cougars to their 12th victory.
“That’s the third time this year that a match was tied 3-3 and it came down to Cristina and Jillian, and they won all three,” said Rubino. “They have won seven of their eight matches together in third doubles.”
Also winning matches in North Providence’s victory over North Smithfield were Jordan (6-0, 6-1), the third doubles team of senior Leandhy Williams and Alcala (6-1, 6-0), the first doubles squad of junior Graycen Pappas and freshman Isabella Cardarelli (6-2, 6-0), Zhuang (6-2, 6-1), and the tandem of St. Germain and Fontaine (7-5, 4-6, 10-5).
If the Cougars reach the D-II championship match, it will take place on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Slater Park. Also vying for the title are 2nd-seeded Prout (14-2), 3rd-seeded Middletown (13-3), and 6th-seeded Chariho (12-4).