FITCHBURG — There’s a newfound sense of excitement surrounding the Fitchburg High School girls tennis program.
As the Red Raiders wind down their 2023 regular season, head coach Kelly O’Connor loves what she’s been seeing from her young squad.
“The girls are working really hard and it’s been a lot of fun working with and being around them,” said O’Connor during her team’s home match against North Middlesex Regional on Friday afternoon. “Our numbers are up from last year and we are trying to continue to build the team.”
O’Connor, who also coaches the school’s field hockey program during the fall season, is in her second year as the Red Raiders girls tennis head coach. The 1995 North Middlesex graduate was filled with excitement after the team’s 4-1 victory over her alma mater, improving Fitchburg’s record to 4-6.
The victory over the Patriots avenged a 3-2 loss to the same North Middlesex squad at the Hawthorne Brook Middle School in Townsend three days earlier.
“When I was hired prior to last season, I was told we had a very young and inexperienced team and with my work schedule I couldn’t get here until later in the afternoon,” said O’Connor. “We wanted to try and get girls excited and want to come out and play tennis here. Last year, we didn’t play a varsity schedule. We worked on skill development and conditioning. I said this year we wanted to play a varsity schedule. These girls are hungry and they want to work.”
The 2023 edition of the Red Raiders features 23 athletes, 11 on the varsity roster. Nine of the 11 are returning players from a year ago.
“(Fitchburg athletic director Craig Antocci) came down to a practice recently and said to me that he saw a lot of happy tennis players,” said O’Connor. “Winning is great but watching these girls grow and improve and really enjoy the sport is what I care about. It’s what is most important to me.”
On Friday afternoon, Fitchburg sophomore Gaby Liotta represented the Red Raiders in the third singles match and picked up a 6-4, 6-0 victory.
“This experience has been very positive, all the players and coaches have been uplifting. It’s a safe and fun environment to learn and practice,” said Liotta, whose older sister Isabella is a senior captain on the team. “From a team aspect, we all work together and help each other to become better players. My two years as a part of this team and program have been really enjoyable.”
The Fitchburg varsity roster also includes Alyssa Medley, Denisa Pissea, Khanchana Nanthavongsa, Chiali Moua, Jenny Cao, Xonyia Vang, Brittany Estrada, Envy Lor and captain Luz Gomez.
The Red Raiders end their regular season on Wednesday afternoon when they head to the Lake Park Tennis Courts in Worcester to take on Worcester North.