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Second place a first-rate conclusion

Class M-S Tennis Championship

June 03, 2009
PLYMOUTH—Their spirits remained upbeat and any signs of disappointment were concealed last Saturday as the Littleton Lady Crusaders gathered to receive their runner-up tennis plaque.

While a shutout loss to the unbeaten Derryfield Cougars was the result, just to be playing for a Class M-S title at Plymouth State University ultimately was a quenching experience.

"This is the only championship I've ever played for," said Littleton senior Kristine Brammer, a three-sport athlete and the club's No. 1 player. "And you still get a medal for second."

Frankly, the second-place-is-the-first-loser adage was as far from the truth as possible for this LHS group, led by Brammer and fellow seniors Cassie Boyle and Camille Perez. In returning to the playoffs for the second straight season, all six Littleton starters earned their first opportunity to play in a championship game—in any sport. More importantly, the 2009 club helped re-lay a strong foundation and garner keen interest in LHS tennis, both factors that contributed to the school's six girls' tennis titles in the 1990s.

"We weren't looked at as a skilled team at the beginning of the year, but we've really grown as a team," Brammer said. "We're getting all this attention, and now, there are so many girls interested in tennis.

"We're not only known for reaching the championship, but also for our sportsmanship and we're proud of that."

Entering the match, second-seeded Littleton (12-3) knew Derryfield was in its own class and the top-seeded Cougars (15-0) pulled rank last Saturday. In a 9-0 blanking of the Crusaders—winners of 10 straight matches—Derryfield became repeat champs, completed a second straight unbeaten season and earned its fifth title during a run of six straight girls' tennis championship appearances.

The Cougars, who defeated Inter-Lakes 9-0 in the semis, recorded 11 shutout victories and lost just six sets this season—reportedly winning scrimmages against Class L schools Concord and Manchester Central. Their team was also bolstered by the addition of freshman Nicole Zohdi, the team's No. 1 who holds a United States Tennis Association ranking and spends time training in Florida.

Derryfield put their talents on display for the Crusaders and the throng of observers on a mostly sunny afternoon, as it cruised to 8-love sweeps in four of the six singles matches and two of the three doubles contests.

"They are extremely competitive and a very solid team throughout their lineup, and with the addition of their No. 1 just makes them enormously strong," said Littleton coach Al Smith, who also helped guide the school to its titles in the 1990s.

Boyle nearly grabbed LHS' lone win in the longest singles match of the afternoon. The Crusaders' No. 2 player rallied to win consecutive games against Lydia Mackenzie to close the gap, 6-7, but Derryfield's senior captain broke serve for the 8-6 triumph.

"I feel like I played the best I've ever played," said Boyle, who only recently took up the sport as a junior, and was facing Derryfield's No. 1 player from a season ago. "I am definitely proud of the team and how far we've come and I am really proud of myself. I have only been playing for two years and I thank the coaches, Kristine (Brammer) and everybody for helping me. I just really wish I started playing when I was a freshman."

Sam Fillion was the only other Crusader to win a game in singles play. She lost 3-8 to Sadie Fowler in the No. 6 contest.

Brammer and Perez, who both had just one singles loss on the year, both were swept 8-0. The same went for LHS' No. 4 and No. 5, Lindsay Hamel and Jennifer Gardner.

Brammer, meanwhile, was in awe of Zhodi's skill-level.

"She was the best girl I've ever played against," said Brammer, who will be playing tennis for the University of Southern Maine in Gorham next year. "She was amazing. Her serve was powerful and there was no difference between her first and second serve."

For the three Littleton seniors, meanwhile, they had to cut short their Senior Trip to New York City just to get to Plymouth. Taken by one of the trips chaperones, Kory Pinard, the foursome left the NYC area at 3:30 a.m. and traveled six hours to the championship site.

"Considering I had three hours of sleep, I think I played pretty well," Brammer said.

In doubles play—Littleton's strength all season—the Crusaders were also overwhelmed. Brammer and Boyle battled to win two games against Mackenzie and Zohdi, but the other two ended 8-love in favor of Derryfield, including the Cougars' No. 2 sister tandem of Camille and Aislinn Smith handing Gardner and Perez their first doubles defeat of the year.

With Brammer, Boyle and Brazilian exchange student Perez, expected to graduate, the team will likely have a different look next season, though LHS had a total of 25 players on its roster. Beyond the loss of the talent, Smith noted the absence of Brammer's leadership would be particularly tough to replace.

"She's the heart and soul of the team, a girl all the players look to," he said.

The seniors, however, certainly did their job in providing an exemplary work ethic and an end result that Smith hopes will carry over.

"Looking at all the young girls that we have, it's important for them to see that a championship is attainable if they work hard," he said. "For the girls that didn't play this season, hopefully it will motivate them to spend some time in the summer working on their own, because they'll have some big shoes to fill."

As for second place? In this case, it can certainly be considered a Crusader win.

"Making it to the finals was an accomplishment," Smith said. "Hopefully the enthusiasm builds and we can continue to field some competitive teams."

Note: Brammer is planning to compete in the quarterfinals of the individual tournament this Saturday, scheduled to be held at 9 a.m. at either The Derryfield School or Southern New Hampshire University (both in Manchester). If she advances, the semifinals and finals are slated for June 9 at 4 p.m. at The Derryfield School.

Brammer and Boyle, meanwhile, are scheduled to compete together in the doubles tournament, with the opening round set to be held Sunday at 9 a.m. at the same location. The next rounds of the doubles tourney would be June 11.

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