Dartmouth postdoctoral fellow Kelly Finn brings technical approach to Hanover boys tennis

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-03-2023 7:56 AM

HANOVER — Kelly Finn missed the sport she’d grown up with.

Finn was a tennis player growing up in Wichita Falls, Texas, and for 2½ years at Southwestern University, near Austin. But by the time she arrived at UC Davis to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy, focusing on animal behavior, in 2014, she’d been out of competitive tennis for around four years.

She picked up the sport again at the California school as the only graduate student on the club team, and found she could still compete against the undergrads. So she’s continued playing ever since, including after moving to the Upper Valley in 2019 to become a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth College. This spring, Finn took over as head coach for the defending NHIAA Division I state champion Hanover High boys tennis team as well.

“I like teaching a lot, and I like mentoring students with my job at Dartmouth,” Finn said. “I thought since I like doing tennis so much right now, (I could) try merging these two things together.”

After competing in cross country and track in addition to tennis in high school, Finn was the top singles and doubles player at Division III Southwestern by her sophomore year, but she left the team as a junior due to a combination of injuries and a desire to cfocus more on academics and research.

Her first job after graduation took her to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Fla., where she worked for a year and a half on the science team as an animal behavioral researcher. Finn’s work on primates during her graduate studies at Davis included summer gigs in Gibraltar — a British territory on the southern coast of Spain — and Kyoto University in Japan.

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But she remained just as passionate about tennis as animal research, and upon accepting her role at Dartmouth, Finn began looking for opportunities to play in the winter. She found indoor courts at Our Court Tennis Club in White River Junction, near her new home in Hartland, as well as Lebanon’s River Valley Club. Tammy Arado, the director of tennis at RVC and the co-head boys tennis coach at Lebanon High, has played with Finn in doubles and told her about the opening with the Hanover program when she mentioned a desire to get into coaching.

Previous coach Jarrod Shaheen, a Spanish teacher at the high school, stepped away after leading the Bears to an undefeated season and their first state title since moving up to Division I, but Hanover lost its top four singles players to graduation and has no seniors on Finn’s 2023 roster.

“It is a young team, but it’s the same players for two years, so that’s exciting,” Finn said. “You can think of it as longer-term goals, longer-term development with the same group of people. There’s a lot of talent (and) a lot of solid players.”

Because she still plays regularly, Finn is well-equipped to coach the Bears on the more technical aspects of tennis — how high or far players should toss the ball up before serving, for example. During matches, she’s constantly walking from court to court, checking in on each of her athletes to make sure she’s not missing anyone who might need or want any in-match coaching.

Hanover has four juniors and six sophomores this season, but while all of the sophomores were on varsity last year, Zach Pearson is the lone junior returnee. Sophomore Sam Ames, who was undefeated last year at No. 6 singles, moved all the way up to the No. 1 spot this year, and Finn named him team captain on the bus to the Bears’ opening match at Merrimack.

“Coach Shaheen had his own style; he really motivated us. He was a great coach, by all means, (but) he wasn’t super-technically involved,” Ames said. “It’s definitely been a difference having Coach Finn, who knows more technically and has played tennis herself at the college level.”

Finn is a rare breed as a woman coaching boys at the high school level, but she remembers watching her younger brother play high school tennis, and she also regularly plays with and against men as an adult. She said at the youth and amateur levels, the differences between the men’s and women’s games are minimal and only become more apparent in college and professional tennis, where differences in serve speeds begin to grow.

Practices are also considerably more technical under Finn as compared to Shaheen. Sophomore Pablo Martin-Asensio said Shaheen did not have the Bears play challenge matches until late in the season, but with so many new faces, including Finn herself, this year’s team was playing challenge matches in the preseason so Finn could put together a lineup.

“I have progressed physically, and I have definitely learned a lot of new things,” Martin-Asensio said. “My serve, I learned about the trophy pose, where I need to hold a certain position for longer in order to crank up the power and accuracy. I’ve gotten a lot more active with my footwork, and I feel like my game has improved quite a bit over just the last two weeks of the season.”

Following a season-opening 7-2 win over Merrimack, Hanover fell by that same score at Bedford on April 14 in a rematch of last year’s state final. The Bulldogs had won the previous eight Division I titles before the Bears unseated them last June. Hanover has since bounced back with comfortable wins over Londonderry and Pinkerton and held a 3-2 lead Monday against a strong Nashua South team when the match was suspended due to rain.

Each of the Bears’ players has a note card in his racket bag on which they write reminders for themselves to look at if they’re struggling during a match. The idea came from a trip the team took to Dartmouth’s first home match this season, when they saw the Big Green’s players pull cards out of their bags.

Hanover also records matches using an app called SwingVision, which cuts out the time between points and allows players to watch their matches back in around 15 minutes.

“I’m a data scientist, so I sometimes will pull the data from the videos and give them a summary of their matches,” Finn said. “I’m just trying to give them data to learn from and improve themselves.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.

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