With the dominance Scranton Prep and Abington Heights have had recently in girls tennis, it may be easy to forget that there are other schools, aside from the Classics and the Lady Comets, involved in the Lackawanna League.
This year, there was another team to gather some headlines for their play, as Riverside’s head coach Robert Thomas was selected the coach of the year by the Times-Tribune.
It has taken Thomas time to get the Lady Vikes back in the spotlight.
“I started coaching at Riverside in girls tennis in the 2007-2008 school year. In my time as head coach, we have many highs and lows with the program,” Thomas said. “We won the division championship in 2011 and finished in second the following season.
“Then we had some very rough years after that; there’s no way to hide the fact that we didn’t have a win in four straight years. Although we had some good players over those years, we didn’t have a strong roster, the full team wasn’t strong, that is until this year.”
This year, Thomas was honored for guiding Riverside to a 5-9 record, but the turning point actually came in 2016.
“Last school year we had our first victory in four years over West Scranton and that was what this team needed; the curse was over.” Thomas said. “The win that night at McDade Park was huge, and we just kept the positive.
The Lady Vikes bought into what Thomas was saying.
“There are many reasons the team did well this year but I believe the most important is two-fold. First, they came up together; we have five seniors in the starting lineup, all of them are three- or four-year players,” Thomas said. “Second, a few of them played year-round, finding indoor courts in the winter months, taking some private lessons and attending clinics.
“I wish I could say all of them did this off-season training, but the ones who did, it absolutely made the difference. This group is very special to me - they will go down in team history as the team who broke the curse and helped bring tennis back at Riverside.”
If that is the case, then Thomas will have a lot of girls to remember.
“Team captain Alyssa Chesek is a real leader who truly knows the sport,” Thomas said. “She shows her leadership skills in many ways, often by example, modeling the on- and off-court behavior that the Lady Vikes should always express. Unfortunately, Chesek suffered an ankle injury and missed several weeks of the season but she still managed to bring home wins at singles and doubles.
“Our top singles player was Samantha Labrosky [record 7-7] who also played with injuries and often had rallies with three-set matches,” Thomas said. I’m very proud of her and will miss her drive and experience.”
“Trinity Gable played this year at both second and third singles, and led the team in wins (record 9-5). Bringing home the most wins for the Lady Vikes, Trinity filled in the lineup at different positions and gave us the early win on court in most matches this season to help build team spirit.
“Abby Fairclough started as a doubles player but moved up to singles to fill in for the injured Chesek, and she did not disappoint,” said Thomas. “With a singles record (5-2), in many ways Abby was the pivotal reason we secured our team victory for a few matches.”
“It’s stories like Abby’s this season that make coaching so rewarding. She really stepped up when we needed her to and she gave it her all. Two of Fairclough’s matches lasted more than 2½ hours each. She does not quit; she’s a true fighter.”
“Rounding out the starting lineup at doubles were seniors Mia Capalongo, the voice of the Lady Vikes and Jamie Greenfield as well as Allison Rempe and Marley Stambaugh. Rempe is our only returning player who started all season so we are looking for big things from her and rebuilding around Rempe and Stambaugh. I can’t say what the future will bring, but we will be on court, win or lose.”