By Tris Wykes

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – It’s a challenge playing boys tennis at Hartford High. 

Wednesday, the Hurricanes fell to 0-11 with a 5-0 loss to visiting Burr & Burton at the Maxfield Sports Complex. The Bulldogs’ blanking was the seventh suffered this spring by Hartford, which has won four of 66 singles and doubles matches. 

Hartford High’s Jacob Helms competed at No. 5 singles. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

The hosts competed without No. 1 singles player Ethan Michaels, who’s out with a wrist injury. He was the lone returning starter back from the 2019 team, which went 0-6. In 2018, the Hurricanes played a JV schedule and the year before that, the program was dormant because of a lack of competitors.

“We’re a very young team and new to match play,” said Kate Godek, a Hartford Middle School special education teacher who coaches both the Hartford boys and girls tennis teams. “We’re doing a nice job learning skills, but a lot of our scores don’t show it.”

Hartford’s girls tennis team is 0-8, so Godek, a Connecticut native who played tennis year-round growing up, has her work cut out for her. Wednesday, as is often the case, the Hurricanes didn’t have enough bodies to compete in doubles. Vermont rules require the use of different players for singles and doubles competition.

Hartford High’s Teddy LaFountain plays a backhand at No. 2 single. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

The boys’ team’s lone senior, Zach Carter, typically plays at No. 4 singles. Three juniors and three sophomores comprise the remainder of the roster, which includes no freshmen. However, eighth-grader Sebastian Frasier competed at No. 6 singles against the Bulldogs, playing in an exhibition format. He then jogged off to lacrosse practice.

Godek said her players are at a stage where they must not only learn fundamental shots and positioning, but also tennis’ unique scorekeeping and tiebreakers.

“Tennis is a complex game with a lot of physical and mental demands,” the coach said. “There’s a lot of nuance. Which way should I point my feet? Do I hit this shot hard or soft? It’s the chess of sports.”

Given that there’s much for new players to learn, Hartford’s been held back somewhat this spring by wet weather. Practices can be held with portable nets in the gym, but those sessions mostly involve conditioning work.

“The limited practice time is frustrating,” Godek said. “The ball doesn’t bounce the same on a wood floor.”

With Michaels out Wednesday, Nicholas Tsouknakis moved up to No. 1 singles and the lineup behind him was Teddy LaFountain, Ezra Avery, Carter, Jacob Helms and Frasier.

“We’re learning and encouraging and teaching them how to fix what’s wrong during a match,” Godek said. “It’s hard for it not to be overwhelming, but we’re trying to build a tennis community here that encourages players to come back each year.”

The Hartford boys play host Brattleboro on Wednesday at the high school courts. It will be Senior Day for Carter and the final regular season match for the rest of the Hurricanes. Michaels, 3-7 this spring, is likely headed to the singles state tournament.

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Hartford High’s No. 1 singles player, Nicholas Tsouknakis, lunges for a ball. Please note the Snoopy socks. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.