Lions return another excellent tennis team

Lions return another excellent tennis team

Lincoln High senior Mike Crawley, shown racing to the net to return a volley during his first singles match on Monday afternoon, is back for his fourth season in the starting lineup. Crawley was a First-Team All-Division selection as a sophomore and junior. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Thanks to seven returning starters, key additions, Lincoln looks to continue successful run in Div. II

LINCOLN – For the second straight season, the Lincoln High boys’ tennis team has a roster that contains just two seniors, but seven of its 10 starters are back from the previous year.

And for the second straight season, the Lions are going to be one of the teams to keep an eye on in the quest for the Division II championship.

Obviously, there’s a long way to go between now and the D-II finals at the end of May at Slater Park, but after two matches, the Lions are 2-0 and looking like a team in midseason form.

After opening their season last Thursday with a 7-0 win over Chariho that saw the host Chargers not win a set, the Lions produced a 5-2 victory in their home opener last Monday afternoon over Classical, which reached the D-II finals last spring.

Head coach Matt Pavao is back for his third season with the Lions, and since he’s taken over the program, Lincoln has snapped a string of five straight losing seasons by posting an 8-7 mark two years ago and a 10-5 record last season.

The Lions have also reached the Division II quarterfinals in each of the last two seasons, but with a large number of returning starters, some who have been in the lineup for multiple seasons, could this be the year that Lincoln makes a deeper run in the playoffs.

“We hope so,” said Pavao. “(The division) looks like it’s going to be what we’ve come to expect. Everyone that was strong last year should be strong again this year. Classical is clearly a good team that’s good every year. Cumberland is returning most of its team, and Cranston West is also returning a lot. And we’ll see if there are any surprises.

“But I always tell the kids, ‘Don’t check the box scores,’” Pavao added with a smile. “That’s not going to help you. All you can do is play your matches and see what happens.”

The Lions lost two starters, a singles player and a doubles players to graduation, and saw another starter move during the offseason, but it appears they have filled in those vacancies quite nicely with three new additions that weren’t on the team’s radar last season.

Two of them are girls who weren’t able to play on the last fall’s girls’ team, junior Dalia Suslovich and sophomore Ana Vygoder, and the third addition is a freshman, Ben Konicov. Suslovich, who starred on the girls’ tennis team in 2015 and ’16, was a junior guard on this past winter’s basketball team, and Vygoder was a sophomore standout on the girls’ swim team.

“Dalia is a strong player, and she fits right in,” noted Pavao. “And when Ana came in on the first day and I saw her hit, and I was like, ‘She’ll fit in (the lineup) nicely.”

Back atop the lineup is senior Mike Crawley, a four-year starter who has quietly put together an outstanding high school career. Crawley was named to the division’s First Team as a sophomore and junior.

“He’s been my (number) one (player) for three years,” said Pavao. “It’s always nice to have that consistency, and he’s really done a great job for us.”

As for the rest of the singles lineup, junior Dylan Katz jumped from third singles last season to second singles this spring, Suslovich is at number three, and junior Stefan Minyayluk, who was a two-time division all-star as a doubles player, showed a lot of improvement in the preseason and flipflopped in the lineup with last season’s fourth singles player, junior Kevin Rao.

Rao is paired at first doubles with sophomore Ryan Fish, who enjoyed a strong rookie season at third doubles last spring. Senior Jacob Vieira is back at second doubles and joined by Konicov, and another key returning doubles player, junior Evan Voyer, is teaming up with Vygoder at third doubles.

In the victory over Classical, Katz highlighted the triimph with a come-from-behind 4-6, 6-4, 10-6 victory over Arlo Heimer-Bumstead, who was the Purple’s top singles player last season. Suslovich (6-2, 6-3) and Minyayluk (6-1, 6-3) rolled to victories in their matches, as did Rao and Fish in first doubles (6-1, 6-2), and Voyer and Vygoder battled to a 6-3, 6-4 victory in their doubles match.

The Lions, who were scheduled to host Providence Country Day on Wednesday afternoon, will clash with neighboring Cumberland today in a 3:30 p.m. showdown at Tucker Field.

Left, Lincoln High junior Dalia Suslovich takes to the air to return a long volley during the first set of her third singles match on Monday afternoon. Suslovich posted a 6-2, 6-3 victory to help the Lions defeat Classical, 5-2. Right, Lincoln junior Dylan Katz delivered a come-from-behind 4-6, 6-4, 10-6 victory in second singles to help the Lions defeat the Purple for their second win in as many matches.