Lebanon bests Berlin in girls tennis

Lebanon High's Hailey Schibuola winds up for a backhand shot during the Raiders' 5-3 defeat of Berlin during the NHIAA Division III semifinals on May 27, 2024, at the Boss Tennis Center in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High's Hailey Schibuola winds up for a backhand shot during the Raiders' 5-3 defeat of Berlin during the NHIAA Division III semifinals on May 27, 2024, at the Boss Tennis Center in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Tris Wykes

Lebanon High's Adaa Karanwal stretches to reach a ball during the Raiders' 5-3 defeat of Berlin during the NHIAA Division III semifinals on May 27, 2024, at the Boss Tennis Center in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High's Adaa Karanwal stretches to reach a ball during the Raiders' 5-3 defeat of Berlin during the NHIAA Division III semifinals on May 27, 2024, at the Boss Tennis Center in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

Lebanon High's Sophie Longacre prepares a forehand shot during the Raiders' 5-3 defeat of Berlin during the NHIAA Division III semifinals on May 27, 2024, at the Boss Tennis Center in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High's Sophie Longacre prepares a forehand shot during the Raiders' 5-3 defeat of Berlin during the NHIAA Division III semifinals on May 27, 2024, at the Boss Tennis Center in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

Lebanon High's Laura Hines charges in to return a shot during the Raiders' 5-3 defeat of Berlin during the NHIAA Division III semifinals on May 27, 2024, at the Boss Tennis Center in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High's Laura Hines charges in to return a shot during the Raiders' 5-3 defeat of Berlin during the NHIAA Division III semifinals on May 27, 2024, at the Boss Tennis Center in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High's Sophie Longacre returns a doubles shot at the net during the Raiders' 5-3 defeat of Berlin during the NHIAA Division III semifinals on May 27, 2024, at the Boss Tennis Center in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High's Sophie Longacre returns a doubles shot at the net during the Raiders' 5-3 defeat of Berlin during the NHIAA Division III semifinals on May 27, 2024, at the Boss Tennis Center in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High's Laura Hines, left, and Sophie Longacre hydrate during the Raiders' 5-3 defeat of Berlin during the NHIAA Division III semifinals on May 27, 2024, at the Boss Tennis Center in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High's Laura Hines, left, and Sophie Longacre hydrate during the Raiders' 5-3 defeat of Berlin during the NHIAA Division III semifinals on May 27, 2024, at the Boss Tennis Center in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-28-2024 4:01 PM

HANOVER — Like a Hailey Schibuola backhand, the Lebanon High girls tennis team’s program has picked up speed and power in a startlingly short period of time.

Less than a decade ago, the Raiders had no team because of a lack of interest. Last March, the few who wanted to play had to stage a frenzied recruiting drive just to fill out the roster.

On Monday, Lebanon made its first appearance in an NHIAA semifinal, beating Division III foe Berlin, 5-4, at Dartmouth College’s Boss Tennis Center to advance to Wednesday’s championship against powerful Littleton in Concord.

“Our players’ natural, technical progression is one thing,” said sixth-year head coach Rob Johnstone, who aims to get his charges as many strokes as possible during most practices. “To hit with that power takes confidence, because if you don’t swing all the way through, that ball is hitting the back wall.

“We’ve gotten past hitting the ball back and hitting the ball back hard. Now it’s thinking points through and attacking openings.”

The second-seeded Raiders’ defeat of the sixth-seeded Mountaineers turned when, with the other five singles matches decided and the hosts holding a 3-2 lead with doubles to come, Schibuola finished off a 6-3 victory at No. 2 singles to put Lebanon in the driver’s seat. The junior said she didn’t notice until the last few points.

“I looked around and it was just the two of us still playing,” said Schibuola, who credits childhood gymnastics for building the muscles she uses for her full-body rips on the backhand. “There hasn’t been a day when we just go home after school. We all show up and put in the work.”

The Raiders’ duo of Sophie Longacre and Laura Hines won at No. 3 doubles to put their school out of reach, although the final two doubles contests were played to conclusion.

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“We’ve improved a lot, and it’s attributable to hard work,” said Longacre, who played lacrosse as a freshman and ran track as a sophomore before picking up tennis last spring. “We’ve grown so much together, and we want to see team success more than individual success. We practice outside of team practices.”

Lebanon’s Adaa Karanwal lost, 8-3, at No. 1 singles Monday, and Hannah Rich won at No. 3, 8-4. Mari Utell fell at No. 4 singles, 8-3, and Longacre and Hines won at No. 5 and No. 6, by scores of 8-1 and 8-4.

The Raiders’ first and second doubles teams of Karanwal-Schibuola and Rich-Utell lost by 8-3 and 8-6 scores. Longacre and Hines lost their first game but won their match, 8-1.

In Littleton, the Raiders (15-1) may be running into a buzzsaw. The Crusaders (16-0) have won 10 titles since 1990, including two of the last three, each decided by 8-1 scores. They’re playing in their fourth consecutive final and have shut out all but four of their 16 opponents this spring.

The team that gave Littleton the hardest time? Lebanon, during a 6-3 road loss.

“We’re all athletes and play other sports, for the most part,” Longacre said. “I think we’ve picked tennis up a lot faster than other girls who maybe didn’t play tennis would have.

“We’ve been the underdogs since the beginning of last year, and we’ve worked our butts off since then. That’s all we can do now, too.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.