TEWKSBURY – If the Tewksbury Memorial High School girls' tennis team was going to make program history on Sunday, it certainly needed everyone from top to bottom contributing.
After all the previous 30 years or so, no team from the high school pulled off what the seven players and coaching staff did before the home crowd.
Behind the play of singles players Elizabeth Ezekiel, Sydney (Crosby) Crowley and Alexia Chesbrough along with doubles teams Jaime Burns & Lizzy Taggert and Emma White & Alexis Hillis all won their matches to help the No. 6 seed Redmen top the No. 11 seed Somerville, 5-0, in the first round of the Division 2 North Sectional tournament.
"It's really exciting and I think all of us worked really hard to get to where we are now," said Burns. "Everyone was always practicing (in the off-season) to get better. I'm not surprised that we made it to the tournament. We all worked hard enough to get where we are now."
The foundation for this historical win actually started back in 2008 when then Athletic Director Bob Aylward hired Mary MacDonald, who at the time had no previous coaching experience.
She came onto the scene and made an incredible impact right away leading the program to a state tournament berth in her second season, to the program's first-ever MVC Division 2 title in her fifth year and Sunday marked her fifth state tournament appearance after missing out on it by one match win in each of the previous three seasons.
"Over the winter, all of the coaches got an email from (Athletic Director Ron) Drouin, who said that he wanted to update all of the banners in the gym and asked if any of us had any changes," explained MacDonald. "I remember going back to him saying that I didn't have any changes, but ask me again at the end of this (upcoming season) and I put at the end of it, that it's going to be (an) epic (season).
“It certainly has been. It's so gratifying to have these great kids, by far the greatest group of kids I have ever coached."
While MacDonald had led previous teams to the state tournament, it seemed like things really picked up for the program when the new courts at the high school came in 2014, followed by the addition of the boys program.
"Once we got the new courts, we knew it would change things," said MacDonald. "My first year coaching here, I had (twelve) kids and this year we had 48 counting the members on the boys team. The courts have made a huge difference, the school takes care of them, they are beautiful and it also encourages kids to try the sport. That's how we get the kids is they try out and have never played before.
"Then we got the boys team going and we have the core group of players there, who are now seniors who came out as freshmen, and we knew that we could take a chance and move them up to a varsity team.
“I'd like to know another program in this state that has gone to the state tournament in its third year as a varsity program. I think it's remarkable and they should all be so proud of that accomplishment. I am so proud of them. It's just been a great couple of months."
The great few months carried over into June on Sunday with the state tournament win. All three singles players came away with two set wins, including Crowley topping Joselyn Martinez, 6-3 and 6-1.
"(I won because) I was focusing because when I lose focus, I get nervous and then sometimes I don't play as well as I normally do. When I did focus, I just thought that if I win, then I'm contributing to the team, because obviously three out of five matches have to win, and I just wanted to be in the three," said Crowley."
Heading into the match was difficult for the Tewksbury players, who had no information on the team they were facing.
"We didn't know much about our opponent, so we didn't know what to expect," said Chesbrough, who won her match 6-1 and 6-0. "Usually we do know something about our opponent, how they play or if we had any common opponents. We really knew nothing about them, so we went in blind."
Chesbrough was the first player to record a win in the match and was followed by Ezekiel and then Crowley, which officially give Tewksbury the win. That followed the two doubles teams, who had been named as MVC All-Stars just a few hours before the match begun.
The first team of Burns and Taggert improved to 15-2 on the season with their 7-5 and 6-2 win.
"We have been playing together since last year so that definitely helps," said Taggert, whose brother James was a key person in helping the boys program continue to build. "I feel that we know how each other plays and our strengths. We both have improved and we both have been better with strategy, and we are just more consistent."
While that pair has been together for a bit, so has the second team of Emma White and Alexis Hillis. They won the first set 7-6 with a 6-4 tiebreaker, before easily taking the second 6-0.
"We play better in the second set," said Hillis. "We get beat in the first set, always. We just need time to wake up."
The two have been excellent together for the past two years, including being named all-stars last year as well.
"(Alexis) is incredible at the net," said White. "Her volleys are so good. I'm glad that I'm on her team," while Hillis said of her teammate, "(Emma) can always get to the ball. She has great forehand (shots). She has a forehand that she can hit stuff off the serve and it's always a winning shot."
When the two doubles teams won and the match was over, among the first group of people to congratulate them were a handful of members from the boys' team, who were also making history the following day qualifying for the first time in program history.
"To also have the boys team qualify too (is just so wonderful)," said MacDonald. "Both teams get along so well, they practice together sometimes, they support each other and they represent so much of what you want in a team, almost a family aspect. They are a very close-knit bunch of kids and there hasn't been a harsh word all season and I feel that they have gotten everything they deserve."
With the first state tournament win in their back pockets, Crowley said that perhaps going forward, the tennis programs will get a little bit more recognition.
"I think (the win) is mostly exciting because no one takes tennis seriously, especially at this school," she said. "Being a part of a team that can actually put us in the record books and showing our team spirit is kind of awesome, " while Chesbrough added, "(The win) just shows people that we can win, that we're really good and this is a real sport."