Published DateGILFORD — Terry Wilson had a problem. Believing that every student at Gilford High School deserved the chance to learn the life-long sport of tennis, he vowed never to cut a player from his team, even if they seemed unlikely to ever play in a varsity match. As a result, his team grew to such a size – he currently has 19 players – that it seemed impossible to give every player court time and a coach's attention at practice.
Coming home from practice one day, shaking his head in frustration, Wilson received a suggestion from his wife: "Why don't you split the practices?" A simple solution, one that seems obvious in hindsight, became a turning point in his coaching career. Wilson made the change several years ago, holding an early practice for players that needed fundamental training, followed by a later practice for the skilled players. Soon, Gilford started winning the NHIAA Division III state championship.
The Golden Eagles won their latest title on Tuesday, beating Bow 6-3. It was Wilson's third championship, all won over a four-year span. Wilson said the championship match was a dramatic finale to the season. "It was one of the most emotional matches in my 15 years of coaching," he said.
Since splitting the practices, Wilson has been able to accomodate developing players, those who might not be ready this season to play in either the six singles or three doubles slots of every match. With a practice dedicated to them, the players new to the game were more likely to remain interested and keep improving. After a few years of such development, Wilson found himself with teams that featured not just a few strong players at the top of the seeding, but with competitive players in every singles and doubles slot and capable backups in reserve.
Going into the post-season this year, Wilson knew he had depth on his team. Although nearly every player had lost at least once throughout the year – the exception being top seed Andrew Caulfield, who hasn't lost since joining the team two years ago – the team as a whole has pulled together for a perfect 16-0 season. However, said Wilson, most of those wins were fairly decisive. His team hadn't been really tested, not until the title match.
In the singles play of the championship match, Caulfield cruised to victory, as did Nolan Dwyer in the sixth seed. The fourth and fifth singles for Gilford, Keaton Quigley and Erich Berghahn, lost their matches. That left the team's co-captains and second and third seeds, Matt Saulnier and Alex Simoneau, still playing. Things weren't looking good, either, as both players had their backs against the wall and were one game away from defeat. They were behind, but not losing. "They both said to me, I'm not losing this match," Wilson recalled.
Saulnier and Simoneau rallied, each coming from behind to win 9-7. Wilson said their play affected more than their individual matches – it took the wind out of Bow's sails, knowing that they now had to sweep doubles matches to win, and it inspired the rest of the Gilford team, the coach said. "The kids are looking to them as leaders of this team to hang in there, to gut it out. Matt and Alex took it upon themselves not to lose."
Wilson knew his team had depth. He learned, during the championship, that they also have character. He said, "I'm certainly enjoying it now, especially for the seniors who wanted to go out this way."
He's losing five seniors to graduation this year, and expects the remaining 14 to return. Of those, only one will be a senior next year. Most of the rest, including the undefeated top seed Caulnier, will be juniors with championship experience.
"I see a bright, bright future next year," said Wilson.