Career/Hillhouse rebuilding girls tennis program: ‘They want to learn’

NEW HAVEN — It’s taken two seasons for the Career/Hillhouse girls tennis team to return from the 2020 CIAC spring season that was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Career/Hillhouse didn’t have enough numbers to field a team in 2021. In fact, just one player competed with the boys Career/Hillhouse team.

“COVID really hurt everything (numbers in the program) because people found other things to do,” Career/Hillhouse girls tennis coach Billy Bostic said. “Last year, we had some girls signed up, but they ended up not wanting to play because they didn’t know how to play.”

The program had 12 kids sign up for this season. There are 11 still with the team. All but one are true newcomers to the sport.

“I was excited (to have our own team). Last year there were no girls, that’s why I had to play with the boys,” said Osiana Brown, a 15-year-old sophomore, who has been playing tennis since she was five. “It’s really nice. Everybody is improving.”

Brown attends High School in the Community. Most of the players — seven — attend Career.

“Success is when everybody is trying, putting in that effort, having that confidence,” Brown said. “As long as I see everybody improving, including myself.”

Not only is Brown the team’s No. 1 singles player — she has the only two points scored in seven matches played this season — she igs also a captain.

“I want to lead by example, not just on the court, but also with a good attitude and a good mindset,” Brown said.

Career was once its own program and came close several seasons ago to qualifying for CIAC tournament play, Bostic said. Now, it’s an entire rebuilding process.

Bostic was honest with them from the start of preseason practice: the team won’t win a match this season. He knows that in order for them to get better, they need to continue to practice, and play during the summer months. You can’t put the racket down in June and not pick it up again until March of 2023 and expect not to regress.

The kids also need to have fun and despite the inexperience, Bostic said the kids are enjoying taking up a new sport. And he is having fun teaching them.

“I’ve told them, ‘If you’re not serious, don’t waste my time and don’t waste your teammates’ time,’” Bostic said. “I can tell they want to learn. I can tell they want to do this. Some you have to push a little harder and some are more serious than others. … Right now, they are having fun and they are learning. I tell them, ‘Like your schoolwork, what you put in is what you get out of it. You have to work on your game. You have to work to get better.’”

There is still difficulty in filling out the roster on game day. Career/Hillhouse has had to forfeit its No. 4 singles and some doubles matches thus far.

“We never play a full four singles and three doubles,” Bostic said. “They may be babysitting a sibling or have a dentist appointment. It’s a tough situation sometimes. I try to explain to the girls that, ‘This is a varsity sport and you are representing your school.’”

So these are baby steps for this Career/Hillhouse program. Bostic has his core group, led by Brown. The hope is to have them all come back next season.

“I’m looking at the big picture. We will be alright. We will be competing next year, and we will have fun,” Bostic said. “By the time they become seniors, they will line up and compete.”; @nhrJoeMorelli