BOONTON _ Carly McDaniel had never played tennis before. Sarah Reed, after some prodding, bought her racket the day before the first practice.
Jordyn Ferrante, a high school junior, had a bit of an advantage, having spent a little time on the court - as a third grader.
For obvious reasons, getting those athletes, all softball players, to join the tennis team at Boonton was going to take Jim Drury's best persuasive techniques, maybe even gentle pleading.
"I hadn't played and didn't know anyone on the team," McDaniel said, explaining her reluctance.
"Coach Drury asked if we'd be interested and said it would help us with softball," recalled Ferrante, who initially agreed only to do stats.
By the third week of October, the Bombers' bat girls could also refer to themselves as tennis players, helping the team, which often went winless, to a 4-12 record.
"They were free in the fall," said Drury, who also heads the basketball program. "I was looking for a few more players, some athletes. They didn't want to play. A few of them told me 'No way' and I said 'Buy a racket.' I finally convinced them."
In their season-opening match, the Bombers were blanked by Newton, 5-0. A few days later, on Oct. 8, Boonton spoiled Pequannock's inaugural match at its new facility, earning a 5-0 victory.
Nicole Crawford, a junior, was first to exit the court that day after defeating Michelle Boyle, 6-1, 6-4, at third singles. Dana Chrisari prevailed at second singles, putting the Bombers up, 2-0.
Meanwhile, McDaniel, the softball squad's standout shortstop, was engaged in an unusual match with Evangeline Witzak at first singles. McDaniel was down 5-0 and dropped the first set, 6-1. She roared back and won 13 of the next 19 games to secure her first varsity win.
"Once Carly started moving the other player around, she was fine," Drury said. "She was hitting right at her. Once she made that change, the whole match was different. When Carly won, her teammates were jumping up and down. Both second doubles teams were losing at the time. When they heard Carly won, they settled down and were able to take their matches."
As the fall wore on, Boonton beat Pequannock again and topped Hopatcong twice. There were also overwhelming setbacks to well-established powerhouses like Mountain Lakes, Kinnelon, Villa Walsh and St. Elizabeth but the Bombers persevered.
"I liked playing," McDaniel said. "I really didn't think we'd win any matches. We had a lot of new players. I was surprised. I'm used to team sports. I enjoyed playing independently. If you lost, it was your fault. There's no one to blame."
McDaniel initially struggled with her backhand, knowing that she couldn't land and keep the top spot if she didn't improve the shot.
Chrisari, Crawford, Sanah Choudhry and Kaveesha Kodituwakku were the team's returnees. They, of course, made significant contributions and offered assistance to the newcomers.
Reed and Mackenzie Thompson, outfielders for the softball team, played doubles. Ferrante, a third baseman, eventually put down the scorebook and took part in the last few matches.
"They picked tennis up quickly and turned out to be pretty good," Drury said.
Kodituwakku, in her third year playing second doubles, said that having the softball players join in "definitely improved the team."
"We helped them with the basics of tennis," she said. "They taught us to be more competitive and more confident."
Choudhry, a co-captain along with Crawford, felt that the atmosphere was awkward at first but then everything became very natural.
"We didn't really know them," Choudhry said. "We began doing group things, like breakfast at the Crawfords, because we didn't want cliques. Everything turned out very well."
The pairing of tennis and softball should have other benefits. Ferrante, a junior, feels she'll have better eye come spring when she steps into the batter's box. Once she began playing tennis, she admitted to "loving it."
"Every once in awhile, I'd get frustrated," Ferrante said. "Tennis is something I can play for my entire life. I got to know people I wouldn't have known before. It was a good experience."
Drury, as well, had to brush up on his tennis. He hadn't played in close to a decade.
"I used to play a little with my brother Ken," he said. "I bought a new racket and got some books on strategy at Barnes & Noble. I always want to know what I'm doing. I was very nervous."
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