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Construction Zone Ahead: Lebanon Boys Tennis Rebuilding

  • Owen Johnstone, of Lebanon High School, serves the ball to Everrett Landers, of Con-Val Regional High School, not pictured, during a match at the CCBA Witherell Center in Lebanon, N.H., on April 2, 2018. Johnstone won the match, 8-2. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Pedro Izquierdo-Sacristan, of Lebanon High School, high fives his teammates before the match against Con-Val Regional High School at the CCBA Witherell Center in Lebanon, N.H., on April 2, 2018. Last season, the Raiders went undefeated and won the NHIAA D-II tennis championship. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Pedro Izquierdo-Sacristan, of Lebanon High School, serves the ball to Zach Kriebel, of Con-Val Regional High School, not pictured, at the CCBA Witherell Center in Lebanon, N.H., on April 2, 2018. This was the first match of the season for the Raiders. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Lebanon — It’s a rebuilding year for the Lebanon High boys tennis team.

No longer are the two-time defending champion Raiders a runaway favorite in NHIAA Division II. The program entered the spring riding back-to-back undefeated campaigns, three straight D-II finals appearances and a 49-2 overall record in three seasons. It also graduated the bulk of its senior-heavy squad in the offseason, a group that included Terran Campbell, Lebanon’s longtime singles No. 2 singles player, and Jacob Peress, who departed as one of the best tennis players in the state.

Lebanon’s inexperience was on display during its season-opening loss to Con-Val, 5-4, at the CCBA on Monday, a match that came down to a few points in the final contest at No. 3 doubles. The loss was the Raiders’ first since falling in the state title match in 2015.

Sure, the Raiders might not have much back from their string of dominant seasons. Mike Haxton, Lebanon’s fourth-year head coach, hopes a new underdog mentality and a talented pair of players atop the lineup may just be enough to help his team compete.

“We’re definitely underdogs this year,” Haxton said. “I think, for the most part, the guys still gave us 100 percent out there; they went out there with a chip on their shoulder. The thing is they’re just inexperienced. Out of the starting lineup, there’s only one that played (last year).”

Owen Johnstone, Lebanon’s senior captain, is a veteran of both title campaigns. Even before the team got outside, Johnstone said he knew this year would feel different.

“Without Jacob, Noah (Didehbani) and Terran, those guys were kind of the soul of the team,” Johnstone said. “They’re just great kids and good players. For me, I was coming in as the only returning kid in the top six. I didn’t know how that was going to go. … It feels different to be the guy that people are looking at.”

Johnstone played No. 2 singles against Con-Val’s Everrett Landers in the opener, winning his match, 8-2. He also helped get Lebanon a win at No. 1 doubles alongside Pedro Izquierdo-Sacristan, a Spanish foreign exchange student and Johnstone’s roommate for the school year.

“In the winter we’ve been members at Our Court (Tennis Club in White River Junction),” Johnstone said. “We fight sometimes, but it’s awesome. It really does feel like I’m playing with a brother.”

Izquierdo-Sacristan started playing tennis when he was little but had not picked up a racket in a competitive match until this spring. He was quick and accurate in his first varsity match against Con-Val’s Zach Kriebel at No. 1 singles, an 8-3 win that featured low, accurate Izquierdo-Sacristan winners combined with serving trouble from Kriebel.

“Spain’s very different. We don’t usually play in high school; we just play for fun,” Izquierdo-Sacristan said. “I like this. You have the option to play three or four sports every year. It’s awesome.”

Izquierdo-Sacristan arrived in Lebanon in September and has also played on the school’s soccer and basketball teams. He got ready for the spring season playing tennis with Haxton, Owen Johnstone and Lebanon girls tennis coach Rob Johnstone, Owen’s father. It was there that Haxton decided to make the Spanish athlete his No. 1 singles player this season.

“Pedro’s good, and Owen’s good,” Haxton said. “They can beat each other in practice, they make a good doubles team, they’re roommates — that helps; there’s communication there. But I can’t count on those two for every match and say, ‘Well, there’s three points.’ Against the better teams, that’s not going to happen.

“That’s why you need three, four, five and six guys, and your doubles teams,” he added. “That’ll be the key for us.”

Lebanon’s Seamus Hickey got the Raiders their other singles win at No. 3, defeating Con-Val’s Taylor Burgess, 8-5. Brothers Nate and Cam Magari each suffered losses at No. 5 and No. 6 singles, respectively, and senior Brodie McPherson lost, 9-8, to Ben Kriebel at No. 4 singles after a lengthy tiebreaker set.

“That was big,” Haxton said.

Tied 3-3 after singles, Johnstone and Izquierdo-Sacristan took care of the Cougars’ tandem Landers and Zach Kriebel at No. 1 doubles, and Con-Val’s Burgess and Ben Kriebel defeated Lebanon’s McPherson and Eric Spaulding, 8-4, at No. 2 doubles. The match came down to Lebanon’s Hickey, a talented freshman, and Jake Willeman, a first-year senior, against Con-Val’s Andres Tourgee and MacLean Timmons.

The match stayed close before Con-Val pulled away with a 7-4 lead. Willeman and Hickey won the next two games, but Tourgee and Timmons sealed the 8-6 win in the next.

Lebanon is upperclassmen-heavy once again this season, with five seniors out of its eight starting athletes along with Izquierdo-Sacristan, who will return to Europe in June. Haxton said he’s excited about the talent coming up to join varsity in the next few years, but Lebanon’s rebuild may take some time.

“I knew it was going to be a rebuilding year,” Haxton said. “We’ll improve, we’ll be competitive, we’ll pull some squeakers out. We’ll probably lose a few more, too.”

Lebanon (0-1) hosts Milford on Monday.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.