WALES — The vibe this year for the Oak Hill girls tennis team is different compared to 2021.

Returning juniors Julia Kronstrand, Alexis Spencer and Ariana Thibeault have a bounce in their step, knowing they have reinforcements this season and that every match isn’t going to start with the Raiders already trailing 0-2.

“It was a lot of pressure just the three of us,” Thibeault said. “Obviously, we all had to win. It was just a lot of pressure.”

Last season, the three were the only members of the team. They played the singles matches, so Oak Hill had to forfeit the two doubles for all 10 team matches of the season. Facing those conditions, the Raiders went 0-10.

“It’s really nice, I think we have a great opportunity this year with so many extra girls,” Kronstrand said. “I am so excited for them to learn about (tennis) and do well.”

The returners did some recruiting, which had some success with the sophomore class, as Kadence Moulton, Nhi Nguyen, Sarah Rossignol, Destiney Samare and Alivia Savage joined the team.

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Now, with eight players, Oak Hill will field a full team — three singles and two doubles teams — and have one player on the bench.

Thibesult said she feels more confident and comfortable this season because there will be more opportunities for the Raiders to win matches this season.

Spencer said that having an even number of players has made practices better this spring.

“It was really hard because of COVID, close contacts and everything else,” Spencer said. “A lot of times, when we were playing each other in practice, one of us would be left out because there was an odd number. That was really hard on us, too, because we didn’t get all the same amount of playing time.”

Raiders coach Liz Tibbetts focused on skill development last season.

“Last year, we did a ton of fundamentals, and we did a lot of stuff at home,” Tibbetts said. “Like, ‘Watch these videos and learn how to do this.’ It was a very different outlook.”

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Kronstrand said the newcomers will pick up the physical skills with practice and during matched but she wants to make sure they are prepared for the ups and downs that happen during a season.

“We still have a lot to learn from them, as well, but what we have learned, especially, through the adversity, I think that’s something that’s powerful,” Kronstad said.

The next step is learning doubles tennis since none of the players have competed in those matches at the high school level.

Tibbetts, who is in her 10th season coaching Oak Hill, said the team is going to have a crash course this week.

“We haven’t done doubles in three years,” Tibbetts said. “We are getting back in the groove. Change up the format of practice. My daughter (Cassidy Tibbetts, who’s an assistant coach) and I were talking about what we were going to include in doubles because we haven’t done it in so long. It’s just digging up the old information.”

Tibbetts’ plan is to team veterans with newcomers. She said that’s the best route because the returners know how to work with inexperienced players.

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“We also do youth (tennis), and my girls actually coached at the end of last year. I think it teaches them lessons like how to be patient, and how to instruct, but know what they need to work on,” Tibbetts said.

She said they may do some video sessions on doubles tennis.

Spencer and Thibeault briefly played doubles in youth tennis prior to joining the high school team. Thibeault said the most important thing is that the doubles players develop on-court chemistry.

“The biggest difference is having a player with me (on the court) and trying to get that communication down,” Thibeault said.

Spencer said the players also need to become accustomed to using the entire court, since the alleys are out of bounds in singles tennis but inbounds in doubles.

Despite the challenges, the veterans are looking forward to learning doubles.

“I am very excited to learn doubles. I think there’s a very cool team aspect; I can’t wait for that collaborative aspect,” Kronstrand said. “We are all kind of going into this a little bit blind, but we have Mrs. Tibbetts, which will help us do a lot this season.”

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