By Owen Kurtiak
“The team was absolutely incredible. It was easily the most fun I’ve ever had on a sports team,” said Colin Runk (’16), of the Oyster River tennis team.
That was the attitude on this year’s tennis team as they made a historic run to the state finals where they were defeated by Lebanon High School. The Bobcats finished the season 15-1 and became the first boys OR tennis team ever to reach the finals.
The team was led by sophomore Henry Bulkley in the no. 1 singles slot, who went undefeated in singles during the regular season. Bulkley, who grew up in southern California, started playing for Oyster River his freshman year and quickly rose to the top slot. Nancy Bulkley, Henry’s mom, is the assistant coach for head Coach Allen.
In the championship, Bulkley faced off against Lebanon’s Jacob Peress and easily defeated his opponent. But only two of the six singles matches were won by Oyster River, which put the team at a disadvantage heading into the doubles part of the championship. James Kahn (’16) defeated Lebanon’s Noah Didehbani at no. 3 putting Oyster River up 2-0 early but then the rest of the singles matches went Lebanon’s way. Lebanon had to win just one of the three doubles to reach 5 points for the team and take home the championship.
“Our strategy is to play offensively and try to hit the ball hard and past the other player. Lebanon’s goal was to play defense until someone missed or hit the net, and it made it very difficult for us to get into a rhythm and play our style,” said Porter McManus (‘16).
As the doubles matches got underway, the strong duo of Bulkley-Runk for Oyster River prevailed against Lebanon, 8-4, but the odds were against Oyster River who dropped the other two doubles matches to the opponent, which landed Lebanon the win.
Last year Oyster River made the semifinals and returned the top four players to its lineup. Since this year was a rebuilding year for many teams, Oyster River was expected to do well, though making the championship as the number one seed was an unexpected outcome.
“We luckily all stayed healthy this year, which certainly helped our run. Our biggest challenge was playing defending champion Portsmouth who returned all of their players,” said Bulkley (‘18). “Luckily, we had improved significantly and we were ready for the challenge.”
The prospect for next year’s team is somewhat up in the air. Singles players 2, 5, 6 are graduating, which means there are some important slots to fill. “We have a lot of young talent, but it will be important for them to play throughout the offseason,” Runk adds. Fortunately, the tennis team is “a very fun team to be apart of, “ McManus says. “It’s super laid back and we all like to have a good time.”