BERLIN - The way Berlin boys tennis head coach Rex Smith sees it, the regular season offers his players a chance to learn the sport. And it has benefited the Redcoats this spring.
Berlin is out to a modest 5-5 record so far this season, a surprising feat considering a largely inexperienced roster.
On paper, the Redcoats look like they have a veteran roster with six seniors and three juniors, but many of them have never played tennis prior to this year. One of the few experienced seniors is Thomas Fijalkowski, who wants to use some of his own experiences to create a welcoming environment for younger players.
“Being on this team is a lot of fun,” Fijalkowski said. “I had a lot of fun playing with the seniors when I was a freshman. I want to make sure we create that same fun environment for the freshmen and other underclassmen on this team so that they’ll want to continue to be on the team and have fun.”
Berlin head coach Rex Smith also highlighted junior Jonathan Trevethan, who is widely considered to be one of the best boys tennis players in the region.
Smith said how Trevethan is not only a consistently good player on the court, he is also a consistent leader. Smith said he has seen Trevethan work with his teammates, but he will also work with his opponents, giving them tips and pointers on how they can improve and become better players, a quality Smith admits that he hasn’t seen in a lot of players over the years.
“[Trevethan]’s always going against the other team’s No. 1 and even when he’s up, he’s always working with the other player to help them get better as the match goes on,” Smith said.
According to Smith, seven of the 10 players who hit the court in their match against New Britain on Tuesday are playing tennis for the first time this year. Ryan Jenkins is the only new singles player. But Dom Biello, Ryan Cyr, Jackson Lombardi, James Zovich, Stephen Gendreau and Noah Mihalko are all doubles players who are brand new to tennis.
“A lot of our kids, even some seniors, are playing tennis for the first time in their lives this year,” Smith said. “They’re older but they’re inexperienced. It’s one of those things where these guys just want to come out and have a good time. And honestly, I’ll take those sorts of guys anytime I can get them.”
Smith said he is even more excited about his team because not only do they want to have fun, they also have had experience playing other sports, so they’re already in good shape and athletic enough to make Smith’s job easier as the coach.
“Ryan Jenkins is an all-state soccer player,” Smith said. “I’ve got other kids who can play soccer. I’ve got kids who have played baseball. These are all really good athletes. So to get them out here on the tennis court is great, especially the soccer players who are playing soccer all year and to get them to break free of that for a spring to play tennis is great. If I can get some of these great athletes out here when they’re young and playing three or four years, by the time they’re seniors they can really be something.”
Smith is also happy Berlin has a new and improved tennis facility that was upgraded at the end of 2016. He said the new facility “breeds tennis” and attracts younger kids to play the sport. But with the lights, it also allows parents to come see their kids play when they have matches later in the day.
Despite a decent showing so far this year and there still being hope at a chance in the state tournament, the last thing Smith is concerned about is results.
“I’m not worried about records,” the head coach said. “I’ve been at this 35 years. But my record has never been important. I couldn’t care less. What I’m more concerned about is getting kids out here, having a good time.”
Tyler Roaix can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org