Bright outlook ahead for Martha’s Vineyard girls varsity tennis team

Nina Bramhall and Liz Roberts take the helm of the promising squad.

Liz Roberts, left, and Nina Bramhall are the new Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School varsity girls tennis coaches. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Spring has sprung for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) girls varsity tennis team, which held its first outdoor practice Tuesday on snowy-cornered courts.

New coaches Nina Bramhall, six-year coaching veteran of Vineyard Youth Tennis (VYT), and Liz Roberts, a competitive player in her own right and mom to MVRHS freshman tennis hopeful Kat Roberts, want to get the team’s challenge matches completed in order to set the lineup for the team’s first match Tuesday, an away game against Barnstable High School.

Ms. Bramhall is on a short leave from VYT for the girls’ tennis season, and is already well acquainted with many of the team members. Over the years, she has coached many of the MVRHS girls. “I’ve had a nice, long get-to-know with probably the majority of them,” Ms. Bramhall told The Times.

Similarly, new coach Liz Roberts has also been working with many of the girls for years as a result of her daughter Kat’s involvement. Knowing many of the players’ strengths and weaknesses makes for a short ramp-up time.

“In teaching we call it ‘looping,’ where a teacher moves up with a grade, so in September you already have a baseline for the students you’re working with,” third grade Tisbury School teacher Anne Williamson, Lizzie’s mom, told The Times Tuesday. “I feel that it is what’s happening with my daughter. Nina knows her and can teach right to her style.”

Connie McHugh, owner of Airport Fitness, coached the girl’s tennis team for the past four years. “It was great; I loved it,” Ms. McHugh told The Times. “I really just discovered that I couldn’t work at a job that was open from 6 am in the morning until 9 or 10 pm at night without being a little stressed out. It was just a little too much for me to do both.”

Under Ms. McHugh the team always went into postseason play, but amid multiple club renovations last year, she literally ran out of gas while driving to the boat to get the team to take them to a match, and she said to herself, “I think I’m overbooked.”

“Liz and I were very flattered, because many of the girls approached both of us about coming forward and coaching them,” Ms. Bramhall said. “We decided it would be a good fit for us to do it together.”

Although the two women consider themselves “co-coaches,” technically Ms. Bramhall is the head coach and Ms. Roberts is a volunteer.

“They pretty much share the coaching duties,” said MVRHS Athletic Director Mark McCarthy.

“They have a very strong nucleus coming back,” Mark McCarthy told The Times Tuesday. “[Positions] one through seven will be very strong, and that will put them in a good position to do well again this year.”

One player to watch is Samantha Potter, who has been the No. 1 singles player since her freshman year, and is headed to the Air Force Academy in September. Barring any surprises, it is expected that Samantha will retain her top post. Twin sister Charlotte Potter and Josie Iadicicco are also seniors to watch, among several others.

Former coach Connie McHugh agreed, explaining that oftentimes, having depth is better than having one strength. “A fantastic first singles player is not going to win you a match,” she said. “You’ve got to have strong second doubles and third singles to win your matches.”

There is no formal junior varsity team, but if schools bring five extra players, for example, Ms. Bramhall plans to play her second tier down to give them match-play experience. The MVRHS girls team has 17 players currently trying out. There are seven top spots for the competitive play, three singles positions and two doubles positions. Ms. Bramhall refers to the top seven spots as a first line rather than varsity.

Ms. Williamson said that the girls have high respect for their new coaches, and appreciate the level of competitive tennis that Nina and Liz bring to the table. “I feel like I’m sending my daughter to a great tennis camp — I feel almost like I should be paying for the experience, as I do for Vineyard Youth [Tennis]. How lucky are we?” she said.

Now in its 13th season, Vineyard Youth Tennis, which provides low cost and free tennis training, is a big reason for the success of both the girls and boys high school teams on the Island, said Ms. Bramhall. “They are exposed to and excited about tennis there, and the high school results are going up, and up, and up.”

The team’s initial five matches are away. The first home match is Sunday, April 12, at 11:30 am versus Triton High School of Byfield. The team has 17 regular-season matches scheduled, running through May 23.

“Of course it would be great to bring in a win, but I think the main objective is to have a cohesive team where everybody is working together and learning from each other,” Ms. Bramhall said. “We have a lot of girls who haven’t really competed before, so it’s a learning opportunity for them and a teaching opportunity for the older girls, and that’s a really nice element.”