TEWKSBURY – It's really hard to fathom that three years ago the Tewksbury Memorial High School Boys' Tennis team was competing for the first time as a varsity team since the mid 1990s, and after Friday's win over Haverhill, the Redmen are now 7-3 and need one more victory to qualify for the state tournament for what's believed to be the first time in the brief program history, which included the program being cut twice.
"Definitely a lot of hard work," said head coach Rick Keene. "These kids have played day and night. We had a good feeling going into this season. Last year we said that (2019) would be the year for us. Most of these guys have been here now for four years. They were a JV team the first year and since they just have gotten better and better.
“They have been so much better just over the course of this season and you can see that improvement. It's just amazing to see how they came from where they started until now, it's truly amazing. It's all hard work."
After starting out 4-0, the Redmen dropped their next two matches, including a tough and gritty 3-2 defeat to Methuen. After the second loss to Central, the team got things going again, now winning three-out-of four matches with recent wins over Lowell last Wednesday and then Haverhill two days later.
"Last year our (3-13) record was deceiving because they were so many matches that we played where the matches were so close, even against the bigger teams (in the league)," said Keene. "A lot of tennis matches are that way. If you look at score and you see 6-0, everyone one of those games could have or went to deuce and you lose the break-point. Last year, there was a lot of that and a lot of really close matches and this year we have flipped it and now we've been the ones winning the 6-0, 6-1 matches.
"Our matches have been pretty good. We have had a couple of real strong matches against the (MVC Division 1) teams. We have Methuen coming up and I feel as if we should have beaten them and will can beat them (in the rematch). They are a tough team but I know these guys are confident as a team."
In the 5-0 win over Lowell, the Redmen completely dominated winning all ten sets. In singles play, Alek Cranston (6-1, 6-2), Daryl Quek (6-2, 7-5) and Aklilu Aron (6-4, 6-2) all won their matches as did the two doubles teams, including Ben Froment and Derek Wallace by 6-2 and 6-1 scores and Brandon Pham and Pat Dunn in straight 6-0, 6-0 scores.
"Both our doubles teams came away with quick victories," said Keene. "After Alek Cranston and Aklilu Aron came away with victories the last match came down to Daryl Quek. Daryl came out strong winning his first set 6-2. His opponent from Lowell Souann Chum Kept pressing on in the second set. They had a great back and forth battle with long grueling points, but Daryl stayed strong to pull out the set 7-5 earning him the match victory."
The same thing happened against Haverhill with the Redmen winning all ten sets. Cranston (6-1, 6-1), Quek (6-4, 6-3) and Aron (6-0, 6-0) all won again as did both doubles teams with scores of 6-3, 6-1 and 6-2, 6-2, respectively.
"The teams we have gone up against have been together as a varsity program for 20 years and their kids have been taking lessons (in the off-season)," said Keene. "We were a JV team and now we're in our third year as a varsity program. These kids have just worked, worked and worked to get better. They'll play a match and then stay here and play more for another two of three hours. It's passion."
On Monday, Tewksbury was defeated by Andover, 4-0, as the fifth match was played to a draw. Alex Cranston was defeated at first singles by scores of 6-0 and 6-0, Daryl Quek lost 6-1 and 6-0, as did Aklilu Aron, 6-2 and 6-0.
In doubles play, Ben Froment and Derek Wallace fell 6-0 and 6-0 and then due to the bad weather, Pham and Dunn played to a draw (scores of 1-6, 7-5).
“Even though the scores don’t reflect it, our team played very good against a really strong Andover team,” said Keene. “I’m proud of how hard they played and never gave up fighting for every point. Brandon Pham and Pat Dunn’s match had to be halted due to the rain resulting in a draw and pushing their record to an impressive 8-1-1 on the season. Our team record stands at 7-4 for the season with four remaining matches we are looking to push hard and finish strong down the stretch.”
Tewksbury fell to 7-4 on the season with the loss. The Redmen have four matches left with North Andover, Methuen, Burlington and Billerica in order to qualify for the state tournament.