Franklin’s Girls Tennis Program Undergoes a Revival
The 2023 Franklin High girls’ tennis team that finished its regular season with a 12-6 record.
By KEN HAMWEY,
Staff Sports Writer
Bob Pingeton has been the Panthers’ girls’ tennis coach for the last three years, and he’s taken that program to new heights in the Hockomock League.
When he arrived, the Panthers were at rock bottom — with a 1-16 record in 2019. Hired in 2020, Pingeton’s first season never materialized, because COVID-19 forced cancellation of all spring sports. In 2021, his first competitive campaign was shortened because of the lingering pandemic. That season ended with a 5-9 record.
Fast forward to 2022 and 2023 and the girls’ squad has blossomed. FHS was 11-5 in the league and 11-7 overall in 2022, and last season, the Panthers went 12-4 in league play and 12-6 overall, falling one victory short of claiming the Kelley-Rex Division crown.
“When I got to Franklin, the program needed to be rebuilt and that’s how I treated the situation,’’ Pingeton said. “The key was getting more top-notch athletes to come out. There were only 10 girls on the team in 2019. For the last two seasons, we’ve reached 24. Other factors I stressed was playing in out-of-season matches and to take lessons. Those who were serious about tennis took lessons and continued to improve in the off-season.’’
The Panthers, who were 25th in the final MIAA Division 1 rankings last spring, had their troubles in the tourney. They lost to Andover, 5-0, in the first round.
“Our goals this year were to compete for the Kelley-Rex title, beat King Philip twice and qualify for the playoffs,’’ Pingeton said. “We missed the division crown by one match. We had never beaten KP in my time as coach, but we swept both matches. And we made it to the playoffs for the second straight season.’’
The 2023 contingent, which featured starters who were sophomores and juniors, had a plethora of strengths.
“We had experience, with 80 percent of our starters back,’’ Pingeton noted. “We had depth at both singles and doubles, and we had athletes who were fast and quick. The girls also were coachable, displayed good technique and they improved their tennis IQs.’’
The key, however, to getting positive results was Franklin’s second match on its schedule. It was a clash against King Philip.
“We were down, 2-0, but rallied and won it, 3-2,’’ he recalled. “That match gave us confidence, and it provided some momentum. It laid the foundation for our 12-6 season.’’
Franklin’s senior captains — Allison Bagley and Shriya Rajesh —basically competed as the second doubles team, compiling a 7-2 regular-season record. “Both were in the program for three years,’’ Pingeton said. “They led on the court, off the court and in the classroom. They also led practices and were well-respected by underclassmen.’’
Bagley relied on power and Rajesh utilized finesse.
“Allison displayed a mix of solid play at the baseline, at the net, and by using a strong forehand,’’ Pingeton offered. “Her style enabled her to end play at the net with points. Shriya was strong at the baseline, rallying back and forth and maintaining consistency with her serves.’’
Sophomore Izzy Trull was 3-10 at first singles, but those numbers are a bit deceiving.
“Every match Izzy had was against our opponent’s top player,’’ Pingeton emphasized. “She faced seniors with more experience and players who were as good if not better than her. She maintained resiliency and kept battling, never losing confidence. Next year, as a junior, she’ll be one of the best in the league.’’
Junior left-hander Chloe Essam was 8-7 at second singles. “Chloe is super competitive and really hates to lose,’’ Pingeton said. “Her strength is a two-handed backhand and her serve is a weapon. A power hitter, her baseline play is very good.’’
At third singles, Junior Brooke Taylor posted a 10-5 record during the regular season, relying on consistency. “Brooke limited unforced errors and even though she didn’t have a big serve, she powered her way through matches,’’ said Pingeton who also coaches Franklin’s golf team and Bellingham High’s girls’ basketball squad. “She’s aggressive going to the net; a good all-around player who did a nice job in her first year of tennis.’’
Franklin’s first doubles team, featuring a pair of sophomores (Brooke Daniels and Sydney Tolonen) set the standard, finishing the regular season at 13-0.
“They were our main strength,’’ Pingeton said. “They played some tough matches, but they took care of business. Both are strong at the net and also on the baseline. Their style is similar — both are power hitters.’’
Four seniors who each played four doubles matches included Tanvi Shah, Nihara Lijan, Kelsey Maguire, and Lexi Masters. “They provided depth and were ready when called on,’’ Pingeton said.
The 50-year-old Pingeton, was a captain in football, basketball and baseball at Leicester High School and an all-star in basketball and baseball. The coach led the Panthers’ golf team to a 9-5 record in 2021 and last fall, his forces were co-champs in the Hockomock League with King Philip.
At Bellingham High, he lost his top player to an ACL injury in his first year as the girls’ basketball coach. The Blackhawks missed a tourney berth but won the school’s annual Hutchinson Basketball Memorial Tournament.
Pingeton strives to peak at the right time, and his Franklin girls team did before the state tourney opened. “We went 7-2 in our last nine matches that were played in an 11-day stretch,’’ he said. “We lost to North Attleboro and Bishop Feehan.’’
Although their tourney stay was brief, the Panthers’ girls’ tennis is in a good place. Five or the seven starters will return next season, and the off-season will likely be a time for both veterans and younger players to sharpen their skills.’’
“I was pleased with our effort and our season,’’ the personable Pingeton said of his team, which has a 23-9 record in the Hockomock League in the last two years.