Going Fourth

Providence Day girls tennis coach Ryan Harper (back) is hoping his team can claim its fourth consecutive state title behind Chargers (from left) Peyton Montgomery, Katie Starr, Emma Pixley, Mallory Young, Mollie Sandler, Jenna Comisar and Izzy Gallant.

Providence Day tennis players hope to follow three titles with one more

The 2012 girls tennis season has the potential to bring about something new for Providence Day coach Ryan Harper. Sure, the Chargers will be heavily favored to win the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Class 3A state title. And yes, Providence Day will have a stable of juniors ready to carry on the Chargers’ winning tradition beyond this season.

But if they do win their unprecedented fourth private-school state title, during which time Harper has compiled a 65-5 record over the previous three years, several seniors will have a chance to graduate as four-time state champions, a feat they are very aware of and one they are shooting for.

While earning the elusive four-peat is important to the players, and to Harper himself, Providence Day girls tennis is about more than winning championships and setting records, said the coach.

“It is important for me to make sure that the game is always about much more than winning,” said Harper. “For me, as a tennis player, and a lot of people I know who play will attest to this; tennis teaches you so much about yourself. You train by yourself, have to figure out the best way to eat that day, how to defeat your opponent in any situation, and the game can help you overcome challenges we all face every day.”

Harper played collegiately at North Carolina and ascended as high as No. 30 in the U.S. junior rankings in singles and No. 7 in doubles.

When he arrived on Providence Day’s campus seven seasons ago, he saw potential in the tennis program and set out to change the fortunes of a Chargers team that had finished 8-6 the year before.

“When I came to Providence Day I could see all of the talent that we had,” said Harper, who is 125-11 overall in six seasons as the Chargers’ coach. “We were already knocking on the door, but we were able to take that talent and turn it into wins and a lot of championships.”

Current players, such as senior Mollie Sandler, say much of the Chargers’ success hinges on Harper’s coaching prowess.

“He is very close to us,” Sandler said. “He is close to the team, but he is very close to each one of us individually, too. He knows everyone’s pros and cons and he knows how to relate to every person and fit in what people need to work on.”

Harper said he is fortunate to not only have great talent, such as current seniors Samantha Light and Linley Busby and junior Alexandra Lee, who all were selected to the 2011 all-conference team, but that the talented players are willing to work hard and be good role models.

Light, for example, is ranked fourth among amateur players in the state, 35th in the Southeast and 118th in the nation by TennisRecruiting.net, yet Harper said you would never know it by watching her.

“Samantha is a quiet person, but she leads by example,” Harper said. “She plays and practices with such an intensity and it makes the other girls take notice of that. She always wants to get better and a number of girls on the team are like that.

“I think that on top of how good players like Samantha, Linley and Alexandra are, they are always looking to improve and they are never satisfied with where they are. If they see a new shot or something, they will stay an hour after practice working on it. The girls see that and I think it motivates them to want to work even harder than they already are.”

The players posses something else that usually leads to winning programs: there are no attitudes or egos getting in the way of team success, and everyone has the same goals: To win and to have fun.

“When we go on trips ­- like when we went to California last year or to Florida this year ­- we have good bonding time,” said senior Jenna Comisar. “We all go to dinner together and just get along really well.”

Those friendships carry over to the practice court, too.

“I can room with any of these girls (on road trips),” Sandler said. “I think we all feel like that, and it applies to hitting (on the court). We all will hit with each other and we are all really good friends. That helps a lot.”

It also helps that the team has been so dominant on the court. As consistent winners over the past six seasons, the Chargers know they are getting each opponent’s best shot, but Harper tries to keep the rotations fresh and make sure everyone is ready to go at any time.

This year nearly everyone will have experience after losing only Allison Hoppe and Umarah Mughnee, who sat out last season with injuries.

The only other underclassman is freshman Izzy Gallant. As in years past, Harper is hoping that Gallant can pick up on the leadership and knowledge the upperclassmen provide her.

“If she can see how the girls work hard and train each day then we will be that far along already next year,” Harper said.

Harper also said he is excited to see how this team, devoid of sophomores and other freshman, will respond. Busby, Peyton Montgomery and Mallory Young were recently named captains and will have to carry on the Chargers’ winning ways.

“I am curious to see how the new captains will step up,” Harper said. “Each of them will take their new roles and we will have one person to make sure we are having fun and one to make sure we are working hard.

“They each have a job to do, I just want to see who does what.”

As the Chargers go for their fourth consecutive NCISAA crown, time will tell if they can reach their ultimate goal of winning it all. However it turns out, the seniors are ready to go out with a bang in this, their final season.

“We want to have the best of both worlds,” said Young. “We all want to keep winning, but it is hard because we do put pressure on ourselves. In the end, it is going to be a successful season because seven of us (seniors) will finish our careers and, even if we don’t win the state championship, we are going to push each other as hard as we can to be the best we can be.

“We want to win, but one thing we will do is have fun the whole year. But we do really want it, especially coming off of three straight titles. We really want to make it four.”

Harper has tasted lots of success in his six seasons at Providence Day, but the one season he can vividly remember, and the one that he most often thinks about, is 2008 – the last time his Chargers didn’t win the state title.

“Once you have won and tasted the championship and how it feels to go out and play great for the whole season, you can’t wait to do it again,” Harper said.

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