A Good Run for the Boys Tennis Team

McConville taught doubles the stagger system
When the season began, in March, Kevin McConville said “it was 38 degrees and there was snow on the courts.” Jack Graves

East Hampton High’s boys tennis team, which shared the league championship with Westhampton Beach, made it to the semifinals of the county team tournament this past week, defeating Sachem, the 12th seed, and Half Hollow Hills West, the fourth, before being “smoked,” in its coach Kevin McConville’s words, by top-seeded Half Hollow Hills East.

Hills East played Commack in the final, losing 4-2 to the second seed, a team that, following a 7-0 nonleague loss here earlier in the season, McConville characterized as “outstanding.”

“Commack’s coach [Jimmy Delevante] was also the best coach I came across this season,” McConville said during a conversation Sunday at the Hampton Racquet club, where he is the head pro.

Asked if the team had exceeded or had met his expectations, McConville, the first seasoned teaching professional East Hampton has ever had as a coach, said, “That’s a good question. Getting to the semis was great, I was really pleased with the progress they made . . . I would say, though, that some of them, some of the guys who have their own coaches, tuned me out for a while. They weren’t all that ready to add some variety to their games.”

His biggest accomplishment, he thought, had to do with the progress made during the course of the season by his doubles teams. “I taught them what’s called ‘the stagger system,’ which puts a premium on poaching at the net, and, at the same time, puts them in the best positions to defend against poaching. I didn’t want them always to be in a one-up, one-back alignment, with the server’s partner staring straight ahead, as was the case with just about all the schools we played.”

The stagger system, with its alternating defensive and attacking play, was the best one to use “when you don’t have great serve-and-volleyers. . . . You want to come in on the weak stuff so that your opponents have to hit up, and you want to cut off as many of the high crosscourt shots as you can — you don’t want your doubles teams to be playing singles.”

His doubles teams, he was happy to say, made the difference in the quarterfinal round 4-3 win over Hills West, a perennially strong team that had bested the Bonackers 4-3 in a nonleaguer early on. Thanks to wins at first (Jaedon Glasstein and Alex Weseley) and third (Jamie Fairchild and Hunter Medler) doubles, East Hampton, which split the four singles matches, turned the tables on the Colts in the tournament.

McConville, who was missing two starters the first time around, had expected Luke Louchheim, an eighth grader who had lost only one match during the regular season, to win as well, but he went down 7-5, 7-6 (7-3).

Sometimes with kids you never know who’s going to show up, he agreed, when told the late basketball coach, Ed Petrie, used to say that from time to time, with a smile.

In the tournament’s first round, the Bonackers easily handled Sachem 6-1, with only Weseley and Fairchild losing, in straight sets, at number-one doubles. As a consequence — the two let their opponents stay in points by playing patty-cake at the net and swatted at lobs erratically — McConville changed up the doubles lineup in the Hills West encounter, with the aforementioned good results. Glasstein and Weseley won 6-1, 6-3 and Fairchild and Medler (a pusher but a clever one) winning 7-5, 6-0 at three. Matthew McGovern and Miles Clark, freshmen who played energetically all season, lost at second doubles, 6-4, 6-2.

McConville, whose first year of coaching this was — he had come forward after Katie Helfand, the former boys and girls coach, and the mother of two young children, stepped aside — said he loved the experience. He identified the top 12 singles players initially, and had then largely concentrated his time on bettering the bottom part of the lineup, knowing that his “top three guys, and even Jaedon to a certain extent, were pretty accomplished singles players.”

Jonny De Groot, a Bridgehampton junior, whose father, Doug De Groot, owns the Buckskill Tennis Club on Buckskill Road and the 27Tennis club along the Napeague stretch here, got McConville’s nod as the team’s most valuable player. Matthew McGovern, he said, was “most improved,” and Glasstein, he added, was the coach’s award winner.

Indeed, Glasstein, he said, had been of service when McConville, who rallied in singles and in doubles with his charges throughout the spring in an effort to sharpen their games, in all likelihood tore his right A.C.L. during one of those teaching sessions. (He has undergone two A.C.L. operations on his left knee during the course of his career.) 

“I couldn’t walk for two weeks,” he said. He’s been rehabbing it with Randi Cherill, the school’s trainer, and with Keith Steckowski at Philosofit. “It’s serviceable now,” he said.

Next year’s team ought to be even better, the coach added, in answer to a question, inasmuch as “we’re only graduating one senior, Hunter, and hope to add Thomas Lawton, a Pierson junior who played as a freshman, and who almost came out this year, and Nick Collage, a Sag Harbor freshman.”

McConville, whose clientele includes Rachel Roth, “one of the best juniors in the East, whom I’ve been coaching for the past seven years,” wants to continue working, through hamptonsfit.com, with his high school-age charges this summer, as well with any others interested in pursuing professional tennis, fitness, swimming, and wellness instruction at reasonable rates.