ST. JOHNSBURY — With summer winding down, and the leaves started to fall on the courts, the NEK Men’s Tennis met for what might be one of the last few Monday night get-togethers.
“We had two doubles matches going on and played a round-robin consisting of four games per match for a total of four matches. By playing this format, everyone got to play with everyone,” John Sayarath said. “No score was kept for everyone to hit the balls freely, exhibiting their own styles of play.”
Over the years the members of this group have developed their own unique specialties and tactics. These were showcased during the casual play Monday night. Ned Andrews, one of the most active members, applied his high level of skill and finesse expertly, covering the court with graceful ease. Neil Raphel, a long-time member, applied a soft touch to his strokes, always managing to get the ball back on the other side of the net with well-anticipated strategic placement to win points.
Geoff Whitchurch on the other hand, is one of the group’s power players, blasting serves of over 100 miles per hour and covering the court from side to side in a matter of seconds.
Some players are known for their expertise with specific shots. Sayarath’s forehand, for example, has been described by Caledonian-Record reporters as a “guided missile,” due to his ability to deploy strong forehand shots from anywhere on the court.
Steve Bennett, on the other hand, is known for his “parachute shot,” a tricky return in which he lobs a slow ball far over the head of his opponents, forcing them far back beyond the baseline to attempt a return of this shot. “It appears deceivingly easy but is actually very difficult to negotiate,” Sayarath remarked.
Other players mix and match a variety of shots. Rick Stodola, for example, keeps his opponents guessing. He is a versatile player who can either rip a long return or sneak in a drop shot, sending his opponents scrambling to reach the net to attempt a return.
Richard Smith, another versatile player has earned the nickname “the octopus,” due to his long strides that aptly cover the court and his amazing “wingspan” (long arms) that can reach and smash any ball from seemingly anywhere on the court.
Jeff Nummelin is as competitive as he is in ice hockey. He can soft-touch the balls, and allows his opponents to make errors.
The newest member of the group is Andy Gentile, who recently moved to Sheffield from Boise, Idaho, and is a great addition to the group. His unique, low-toss serve, amazing slice and ability to volley keeps competitors on their toes.
It has been a good and fun season, and the group was excited to find out from the Kiwanis Monday night that the courts may benefit from part of the Covid Relief Package that is coming to St. Johnsbury. The courts have long needed upgrades and expansion. Currently, only two courts are in fair maintenance with a third usable but with many cracks, and a fourth that has been unusable for years. The relief funds could potentially allow for resurfacing of three courts and reconstruction of the fourth court. Other perks might be the return of lighting and new fencing.
“It will be a dream come true to have the four courts resurfaced with lights like they were in the past,” Sayarath said. “I look forward to finding out how these funds might benefit and expand recreational tennis facilities in St. Johnsbury since the courts are used by people from all over the NEK and the [St. J] Academy tennis teams. With more courts available, it would be great to get the youth summer tennis program running again.”