by Andrew Garda

At the start of the summer, Montclair High School girls tennis coach Dawn DeMayo was a little worried about how to transition from last year’s senior-laden team.

Now that the season is here, she’s been nothing but pleased.

“I was a little nervous coming in because I lost four core seniors that I had for four years,” DeMayo said. “They were the heart and soul of the team. So when they all graduated, I was a little nervous.”

What changed?

She met the new talent.

“The freshmen are very impressive,” she said. “The talent level is high.”

DeMayo also said there are a couple of juniors who had previously played other sports, but decided to give tennis a shot. They’d played before, but not at a high school competitive level. DeMayo said their natural athleticism has helped give them an edge as they get into the groove of competitive play.

A good example of this is Yael Gellman. A talented lacrosse player in the spring, Gellman played some varsity tennis last year, and DeMayo said she has really stepped up her game and playing a sport other than tennis helps.

“I think that makes all the difference when you play more sports. It makes you a better athlete,” DeMayo said.

Players like Gellman will help, but with her former core of players gone, DeMayo will look to a group of four to take the Mounties forward.

Maddie Schanen was a freshman last season, and played junior varsity, but this year jumped up to first singles.

She’s joined by fellow sophomore Lily McDonald, who played first doubles last year, and took over the second single spot.

The third single will be occupied by Sam Nochimson, who was paired with Jordan White as a doubles team last season; both players were in consideration for the No. 3 spot. While Nochimson won it, DeMayo said White has to be prepared to step up if need be.

“Especially that first doubles team, you have to be ready at any time to move up and play a singles’ spot,” DeMayo explained. “There’s an injury, someone is sick — I’ve had some weird things happen during seasons where I’ve had to shift people around. [Players] just have to be flexible.”

To help in that, DeMayo had her team, both varsity and junior varsity, playing single matches almost exclusively during the first few weeks of practice.

That served two purposes. First to see where everyone landed in terms of the pecking order. Players can challenge each other and move up a singles or doubles slot, but having everyone play in the first few weeks helped DeMayo get her initial lineups set.

Secondly, it helps give the eventual doubles players some singles experience in case DeMayo has to move them up.

Overall, DeMayo is feeling much more confident now than when she first started planning for the team in early summer.

“Things are looking a lot brighter than when I first thought about the team in July compared to now,” DeMayo said. “We should have a strong core of varsity and the JV team should be extremely strong as well. I am very pleased with what I’m seeing out here. They’re working hard every day, they want to be out here, they want to play.”