WILMINGTON – After her doubles partner from last year Krista Brown graduated, Jessica D'Arco was hoping to move up and play in one of the three singles' positions this year for the Wilmington High School Girls' Tennis team. However, those three spots were locked with returning players, who like Jessica and Krista helped the team finish with 11 wins last year and a trip to the state tournament.
Stuck at being without a spot in the singles' line-up, Jessica then suggested an idea to head coach Matt Hackett. She urged him to put her back to the doubles, but insert her younger sister, Lauren, who had one match of varsity experience under her belt.
That idea has worked. Although Jessica missed a match with a minor injury, the two have a 4-3 record together while Lauren is 5-3, all the while helping the Wildcats enjoy a 6-3 overall record, coming two matches shy of making program history by qualifying for the state tournament for the third straight year.
"Jessica is a really positive person and athlete," said head coach Matt Hackett. "She is always smiling and laughing. She gets along well with all of her team mates. She is a phenomenal teammate herself. Her performance has always been to play singles but the past two seasons we have been blessed with overwhelming singles talent. Rather than complain, Jessica has embraced what was best for the team and played doubles.
"Even this year, when she knew she had a great chance to play singles, she sought me out and initiated a conversation about how she and her sister would really work well together as a doubles team and that she'd be willing to do that for team. As a coach, you can't ask for anything more than that type of leadership and selflessness."
Jessica was asked why she thought that would be a good idea, taking a player with one varsity match of experience and putting her with a player, who had 17 career wins entering this season and was named a Middlesex League All-Star player last year?
"We played together at the Woburn Racquet Club and we just have good chemistry playing together," said Jessica in a group interview minutes before the team boarded the bus for an away match on Thursday afternoon. "I can always tell what she's going to do next and she can tell what I'm going to do next. It makes it easier starting the season off already knowing how your partner plays and I am able do with that Lauren."
The duo have enjoyed a handful of impressive wins, most notably against Melrose, but the sisters along with Hackett, believe their best match came this past Monday in a two set match defeat to Winchester by scores of 6-4 and 7-5.
"I'm most proud of the way they played against Winchester," said Hackett. "Although it was a loss, they played some of their best tennis of the season. Winchester is a top team and the girls pushed them to their limits frustrating them immensely along the way. Also I'll mention their Melrose match. It was an up and down affair with momentum swinging throughout. The girls won the first set and were up in the second before losing in a tie breaker to force a third set. In the super tie breaker third set — because the match had been decided — the girls stepped up their game and pulled away with a hard fought win. It takes immense mental toughness to lose a second set and come back to win another tiebreaker but they did it and I was extremely proud of them."
Jessica and Lauren, as well as younger sister Allison, 10, first got involved in tennis thanks to their father and uncles, who enjoy the sport as a hobby. They took lessons when they were younger and both then tried out for the team during their freshman years. Jessica is now enjoying her third season on varsity.
"Jess is just good at everything. If I mess up, she'll back me up. The chemistry we have (is why we're successful) — it's just easy (to play with Jess)," said Lauren.
While the sisters are similar in some ways, they are different in others ways, including their personalities on the court.
"Lauren takes her tennis game very seriously," said Hackett. "She is her own worst critic and uses that as motivation to constantly improve and get better. I love her dedication and tenacity on and off the court. Her improved game earned her a huge promotion this year to first doubles with her sister."
The two of them do have different styles in terms of abilities on the court, and that's what makes them such an effective tandem, says Hackett.
"Jessica has a very well-rounded game," he said. "She has solid ground strokes, a booming serve, and can dominate the net with the best of them. She is athletic and covers a lot of ground making life difficult on her opponents. She's just really mentally tough.
"And Lauren is developing nicely into a solid tennis player for our team. She played mostly JV last year although she did make her varsity debut against Burlington at third singles to fill in for injuries and battled extremely well in a pressure filled important match. To her credit, she welcomed the chance to play with her sister. Some siblings would cringe at the thought of playing together. Lauren embraced it."
Certainly the two of them have embraced it and not just because they have been winning. Both of them said that very rarely does one get upset at the other one — it's basically the complete opposite of that and Hackett for one, concurs.
"They get along well," he said. "They know how to deal with each other and help each other out. They're a great balance on the court to each other. Lauren's game is all about consistency. She's also a really smart player. She's always thinking out there about strategy which is a huge part of doubles. In fact last match the two of them approached me about introducing signs so that they could better dominate a point off the serve. That's a pretty big developmental step for a doubles team but it shows they work well together and have confidence in each other and their tennis."
There's only five regular season matches left on the schedule and then comes the state tournament and that will conclude the tennis career of Jessica, who will be attending Endicott College in the fall to major in Early Education to become a teacher. Lauren — who will return to WHS for two more years and she will either be moved to a singles' spot, or will have to find her own new doubles partner — was asked what will she do without her partner in crime by her side?
"I don't know," she answered with a big laugh. "I have no idea."
You can bet she'll come up with a winning plan, just like her older sister did.
"I've been blessed to be working with them," said Hackett. "They are top notch people off the court as well. Both are hard workers, respectful and kind people, and just a pleasure to be around. They both have a very bright future ahead of them."