BY ANDREW GARDA
Like everyone else, the members of the Montclair High School girls tennis team are looking forward to having a much more normal season. Of course, they are still taking COVID-19 precautions and being aware of the Delta variant surge, but unlike last season, the Mounties are looking at a full schedule, with a county and state tournament.
Entering his third year as head coach, Guy Rabner has become very familiar with the members of his team.
“I know these kids a lot more,” he said as the team scrimmaged Sparta Monday afternoon. “I’ve gotten to know everyone in the program, so I feel like I have more of a sense of the program. When I came in two years ago, it was more, you know, I was like the new guy, and I didn’t know anybody. So it was a matter of just kind of feeling it out. Last year, it was COVID, so it was really weird.”
Rabner teaches in Livingston but lives in Montclair, and between that and having kids at MHS, he’s had a chance to get to know the team outside of the tennis court. For example, junior Alana Flynn is someone he once coached in softball.
“There’s a lot of connections,” he said. “I like being a part of the community in addition to being the coach. I think it’s nice for everybody.”
Flynn is slated as the first singles on the team, a group that has a healthy mix of seniors, juniors and sophomores.
Sophomore Paloma Donado will take on second singles, while senior Kennedy Bagley-Fortner will be third singles.
“[Bagley-Fortner] has been a three-year varsity starter,” Rabner said. “Alana was third singles last year, [and] Paloma was on [junior varsity]. So, they’ve improved.”
The doubles are a little more in flux.
“We only have one returner that has experience,” Rabner said. “Quinnie [Parisi], she played second doubles last year. So we’re going to be weaker. It’s just a matter of how our competition is and how these younger kids can step up. And that remains to be seen.”
All of the team played well in its scrimmage against Sparta on Monday, which the team won, 4-1. Sparta isn’t in MHS’ conference, but Rabner feels it was a good challenge for the team.
There were other scrimmages set up, but they were canceled by Montclair’s opponents. That meant the next time the team took the court would be in the regular season, which was supposed to involve traveling to Millburn on Wednesday, Sept. 1, assuming Tropical Depression Ida cooperated.
It did not, and the match was moved to Thursday in the hopes that the rain will have moved on.
Millburn is just the beginning of a schedule filled with tough opponents.
“We’re playing a lot of good teams, and so it’ll be tough,” Rabner said. “I think we’re going to probably take some lumps against the strong teams.”
Among those strong teams will be crosstown rival Montclair Kimberley Academy, who Rabner predicts will be very strong.
“They had a very, very young team last year, and I don’t think they were losing anyone. So MKA will be really tough,” he said. “Newark Academy is always good, Millburn’s always good. Livingston’s not quite as good as they were, so they’ll probably be around our level, maybe a little bit better. West Orange and West Essex [both] usually have two really good singles players.”
For Rabner, a lot of the tough matches could come down to stealing some doubles matches.
“If we can win doubles, we can compete with them,” he said. “So, we’ll see. I think it’ll be an interesting year for sure. Hopefully, we’ll be able to compete in it. Ideally, we will be competitive against some of the really good teams and win the matches that we should win.”
After Millburn, MHS will face West Essex on Friday, Sept. 3, at home, MKA on Sept. 9, and Mount St. Dominic on Sept. 10 before the Essex County Tournament takes place on Sept. 13.