EPHS boys' tennis seniors hopefully leave a lasting legacy

Townies are seeking a second league title in three years

By Mike Rego
Posted 5/20/24

Three matches is all that potentially remains in the noteworthy careers of the seniors on the East Providence High School boys' tennis team as the Townies begin their pursuit of the 2024 Division II …

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EPHS boys' tennis seniors hopefully leave a lasting legacy

Townies are seeking a second league title in three years


Three matches is all that potentially remains in the noteworthy careers of the seniors on the East Providence High School boys' tennis team as the Townies begin their pursuit of the 2024 Division II championship.

The eight teams to qualify for the league playoffs, including East Providence, contest the quarterfinals and semis over the next week-plus, culminating with the D-II title match Saturday, June 1, at Slater Park in Pawtucket.

The Townies will be attempting to do what only two other teams in the near 100-year history of the EPHS program have achieved, winning multiple championships in a span of a few years.

The two previous groups of East Providence players actually won back-to-back championships in each case. In the distant past, the Townies took home consecutive state titles (D-I) in 1941 and 42 seasons and a bit more recently EPHS won matching D-II trophies in 2001 and 2002. The current EPHS crop is made up mostly of players who helped lead the locals to the D-III title in 2022, meaning the Townies could win twice in three springs.

In the 20 years between the most recent championships, the program pretty much languished between the top two tiers in the state, bottoming out with three one-win campaigns from 2014-18 in D-II before EPHS was dropped to D-III in 2019 when the rebuild began.

This spring, the Townies finished in a share of second place with reigning champion North Kingstown in the regular season standings. Both had 11-2 records. With one match remained and the top seed clinched, East Greenwich was unbeaten and in first place with a 12-0 mark.

EP will be the third seed in the playoffs based on the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Skippers beat the Townies 4-1 in their only meeting to date, giving NK the edge in the postseason ranks. Each lost to EG, the Townies by a 5-2 score and the Skippers by a 4-3 count.

What makes the '24 version of EPHS impressive is not just what they've have achieved or could, but where they came from.

None of the Townies grew up playing the game at any significant level. They were all pretty much novices to the sport when they joined the team as freshmen back in the spring of 2021.

"Basically a lot of these guys, the upper ladder guys especially, none of us played tennis in our lives before we came out for the team freshman year," said Jaydon Amaral, who played doubles on the 2023 D-III championship team and who compiled an 8-5 record this spring at the fourth singles position.

Amaral said he had no intention of playing tennis until his fellow Riverside Middle School alum James McShane, now the Townies' No. 1 singles player, prodded him to do so.

"It was because of James, especially. He really wanted me to come out and play," Amaral said of how he came to the sport. "But I was like tennis is weird. Tennis is not for me. I played basketball and football growing up. But by sophomore year I was playing like every day. I just grew a passion for it. I've played basically every single day since then, really."

Amaral also credited the Townies' head coach Slade Sharma for creating a welcoming atmosphere around the team. Sharma, then a middle school substitute teacher and coach in the district, came to the program as the assistant to former head coach Paul Amaral four years ago. He became the head coach last year upon Amaral's retirement and he is now a full-time teacher at EPHS.

"It wasn't about playing tennis at all. It was the people. These were basically my best friends all through middle school who were doing it," Amaral continued. "And then there's Coach Sharma, who's basically the nicest dude in the world. Coach Des (assistant coach Kyle Desmarais) as well, amazing people to be around. Other sports teams, the coaches may not be the greatest. But this team, the energy, everyone is positive all the time. It's just been a lot of fun."

Of the senior core of the team, Amaral, McShane, Jordan O'Hara, Brayden Rouette, Joseph Kramer and Miguel Flores each went to RMS. Nathan Thurber, Justin Petion and Jaydon Massa attended Martin.

O'Hara, who has played both singles and doubles, recently became the rare EPHS player to earn 40 career wins. He and Thurber were starters on the '22 side that beat Chariho for the D-III title. O'Hara played fourth singles. Thurber and Amaral played doubles. This spring, O'Hara and Thurber have teamed to go 11-2 at first dubs.

Rouette, who missed the early part of this season to injury, has returned to go 8-0 playing mostly second doubles with Petion. He earned the championship-winning point against the Chargers then at one singles.

Massa and Kramer went 11-1 this spring at third doubles. Flores, another starter in 2022 and 2023, has missed his senior year due to injury.

Also of note this spring, sophomore Abigail Ellison, who intends to play for the EPHS girls' team in the fall, has a 4-7 record at No. 2 singles. Junior John Vaughan, a doubles player for most of 2023, has had an outstanding initial season playing singles solely with a 12-1 mark from the third spot.

"We have three matches left because we're going to the championship. We have three wins in us," Amaral said of what's left for the Townies this spring and in their careers.

He continued, "We just have to grind, play hard, never give up. Go after every point, even if it's a spike from the other team. Just go for the ball, go after every single point because that's how we're going to win matches. We pulled it out in 2022. I know we can pull it out here."

McShane's rise as an individual mirrors that of the team. He was a newbie on the 2021 squad that went 2-7 in D-III durung a season that was still impacted and shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, though, he took over the No. 2 singles spot and won his contest against Chariho in the D-III final. Last year, he edged out Rouette and Ellison to take the top rung on the EPHS ladder.

Of his high school athletic journey, McShane said, "I couldn't even imagine playing tennis four years ago. I was going to be a baseball star, so it's unbelievable to be 11-2 and playing first singles in D-II. I thought that I was pretty good last year, but I've gotten better this year.

"The jump I've seen from playing D-III to D-II is honestly crazy. Last year I would look at everyone's UTR (Universal Tennis Ranking) and I would be like, man, those are THE guys. But this year, other players think I'm one of those guys, like a top three player in the division."

Sharma said McShane's tenacity is what first gave him the notion of recruiting him to the sport and it's what has allowed him to become the player he has by his senior year.

"I've coached James since middle school, his basketball coach, and when I took the assistant coaching job here for tennis he was one of the first guys I talked to about joining the team. Because I kind of knew what he could do. He was a little, little guy playing basketball, but his processing, his IQ, his grit were evident. And no matter what we were going to put him on the other team's best player and he was going to make that kid's life a nightmare for 40 minutes.

"And that has transitioned 100 percent to tennis. We got that player and more. We got someone with the mentality that I will do whatever it takes to win. His skill is obvious. But if you take a look at him from his sophomore year to now, he's taking care of his body different. He trains different. He prepares way differently. He's way more cerebral, obviously, than he was when he was a younger kid. He's everything as advertised of what I thought he could be as a tennis player in high school and more because of just how much skill and desire he has."

As his high school career winds down, McShane echoed the thoughts of his good friend and teammate Amaral about what is needed for the Townies to make another run at a title.

"It's just about grinding. The mentality we've built here is crazy. When I first started there were 11 of us. Now there's 31. That mentality is something I can pass that down. Abby's going to the girls team. I feel like I've passed that attitude to her and she's also helped me out a lot, too.

"But it's just the mentality. Practicing, when (Sharma) has to leave early, we just keep going. We go to Barrington to play. It's just about grinding, having that kind of mentality. The key for us in the playoffs is I've got to win my match and when my match is over I have to go cheer on the other guys. The mindset is just to beat everyone."

Like their female counterparts, the EPHS senior boys tennis players seemingly have created an enduring sentiment about the program, one of enjoyment and equity...sweat equity, a willingness to put in the work and do what's necessary to succeed.

"This senior group is truly special," Sharma added. "I started coaching tennis the same year as they started playing. We've gone through a lot together. We've fought a lot of battles together all across Rhode Island from Division III to Division II. Their legacy is that tennis has never felt this much excitement in the city as it has right now.

"That's their legacy and it's carried on to the girls' team and the school and the administrators. They're aware of the excitement around tennis program at East Providence High School. People on the street are aware of it, and that's what they've created. That's what they're leaving behind."

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Meet our staff

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.