BRISTOL – Coming off of a Central Connecticut Conference North title in 2019, Bristol Eastern boys tennis coach Logan Bourke had lofty hopes for the 2020 season. He was confident his team was going to contend for another conference title and had a talented group of seniors looking to finish their high school careers on a strong note.
The coronavirus pandemic impacting its second straight season for Bourke and the Lancers was a difficult challenge to deal with as they looked to build a team from the ground up. Assembling a complete team did not come in the traditional way as the roster grew at a gradual pace throughout the preseason.
“Last year was probably the most heartbreaking thing of my coaching career, seeing people who worked all four years not get their chance,” Bourke said. “This was similar because I knew the seniors coming up [were in] the same sort of situation, except they had the optimism of hopefully having a season, but we didn’t know what to expect so we were hesitant at first.”
While having a season this year was nearly guaranteed for tennis programs across the state, Bourke remained cautious for much of the team’s early practices as he was not dealing with a complete roster or nearly as many players as he was used to. It was hard to grow his confidence without being able to see more players at practice while Bourke awaited for some of his players to finish some forms.
“It was tough to have only a couple people with all the paperwork and all the medical stuff. We only had about five people at the first practice,” Bourke said. “It was about trying to stay optimistic, trying to bring everyone together, getting everyone on track. Slowly the team started to form and my optimism rose and rose.”
Bourke said he felt repeating as conference champions was a truly attainable goal once he knew he had at least 10 players on the team this year. Getting those final players on the roster did not come the same way they normally do. With the lower turnout this year, some players did their own recruiting to their friends with some free time.
“It was really exciting to see the turn up we had. I just had to text a couple of friends to come out and play,” senior captain Brandon Greger said. “I have some friends on the team that have never picked up a racket before and now we’re all coming together and playing, kids are getting better by the day. It’s really fun to watch, it’s really fun to play.”
With a full roster and a complete slate of matches ahead of them, just reaching the first match of the season felt like an accomplishment for Bourke, as his two-year wait to get to back to coaching high school tennis was over. The Lancers lost to Farmington 6-1 to start their season, but were simply happy to be playing.
“It was surreal,” Bourke said. “We were just happy that it was sunny and we were there playing. It was just a finish line to get on the court. We had this journey and all this hard work and we made it, this is what we wanted.”
The Lancers have started to find their form on the court as well, now 4-3 as a team and improving with more time on the court and strengthening their bonds off the court. Senior captain Nathaniel Woodford said the team entered the year more set on having fun together, but as they became more settled their competitiveness also elevated.
“At the beginning of the season we didn’t have too many people, we had like five, six people show up to practice,” Woodford said. “Once the season started we were getting around 12 [or] 15 people so we started to amp up practice, we were more competitive. We played Farmington our first game and they were pretty difficult, but we won a couple of games in a row. So the team confidence [is higher]. [Tuesday] was a good win.”
Coming off of a 5-2 win over Rocky Hill on Tuesday and a loss to Hall on Monday, Eastern has two more matches this week and has one more four-match week on its schedule. Simply happy to be playing again this season, this team is set to have fun regardless of the outcome.
“It’s really weird, just because you don’t know what’s going to happen on any given day,” Bourke said. “It was nice to start to see a team develop and you start to see little interactions and the positivity and [saying] ‘nice shot,’ in the games and stuff like that. I’m smiling to myself every now and then as I hear or see something going on between them. [We are] a pretty cohesive team even though we’re so small and we’re used to a larger group.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com