By BRIAN CUNNIFF
Around the time the Lower Cape May Regional High School girls tennis team usually begins its preseason workouts, the team’s longtime coach, Greg Douglass, felt the same as many others involved in high school sports at that juncture.
“Right in the beginning I thought it might be difficult just to get started. I mean, they were still talking about maybe closing schools,” Douglass said.
Such is life in the high school sports world during a health crisis.
But what transpired was one of the program’s more rewarding seasons in recent memory.
The Lady Tigers enjoyed some nice success this fall, finishing 8-4 in the truncated season and coming within a shot or two of defeating eventual sectional champion Cumberland in the second round of the postseason. Lower dropped two three-set matches in the 3-2 loss.
“It was a phenomenal year for me, the kids, the parents, the school – everyone right on down the line,” Douglass said. “Once we got started, as far as tennis being outside, it went very well. Teams were following all the protocols. Once we did get started, I was pretty confident we’d finish the season. Just for the chance to play was great, especially for the kids.”
Similar to most of the teams in all sports in the area, Lower Cape May faced a different schedule than usual this fall, geared toward mostly local competition. That meant the Lady Tigers had to face top programs such as Ocean City and Mainland twice each among their 10 regular-season matches.
“Switching up the league was a little bit of a disadvantage for us,” Douglass said. “We would have been very happy coming into the season playing our normal schedule. We thought we’d contend for (a conference title). But even with a more difficult schedule against some tougher teams, we’re still very happy with how we competed.”
Lower managed its excellent season behind a young lineup. Sophomore Sam Mancuso pulled off the rare feat of jumping from the junior varsity ranks as a freshman all the way to No. 1 singles as a sophomore. She was named a league all-star for her efforts.
“Even though she was a JV player last year, we knew she was up and coming,” Douglass said. “But we were a little bit surprised she ended up as our No. 1. It just showed her hard work and dedication to it. She played a lot of tennis over the summer.”
Sophomore Vika Simonsen and junior Delaney Brown played at second and third singles, respectively, for Lower.
The first doubles team consisted of seniors Hope Sandoff and Riley Sullivan. They were also named league all-stars. The second doubles team was made up of juniors Marley Kronemeyer and Sophia Levin.
“We had a deep lineup,” Douglass said. “We felt pretty good that we could get points from just about anyone in any given match, especially from third singles on down.”
Douglass said the team’s signature moment was a 4-1 win over Ocean City late in the regular season, after Lower had lost 4-1 to the Raiders in the team’s first meeting on Oct. 7.
“That was the highlight of the season,” the coach said.
With five of its seven varsity players returning, including all three singles players, Lower is in good position to enjoy an even better season in 2021.
“The girls were excited coming into this season with what we had back,” Douglass said, “so to have almost everyone back again, I’m sure they’re excited for next season, too.”