By Dan Harrison
---- — The Peabody and Beverly High girls tennis teams were the top two squads in the Northeastern Conference Large last spring.
This season, with NEC Large Player of the Year Rachael Gillis and the Peabody team MVP Dany Chhan returning, the Tanners hope to stand alone as the league’s dominant team.
“I feel confident going into this season. We have a great lineup of players on varsity, and I can see that we’ve improved since last season,” said Gillis, who is a senior captain, along with Chhan and Anna Grimalyak.
“I think our biggest strengths of the team this season so far are our strong work ethic and dedication to the sport. Even though we are all busy with school, work and other responsibilities, we make tennis a priority and put in our best effort.”
Gillis and junior teammate Kayla Hodas will compete for the top singles spot. With Hodas going to France on a school trip, though, Gillis will be the de facto first singles player for at least three matches. Hodas and Grimalyak were the Tanners top doubles team last season, but Hodas has emerged as a strong singles player.
“Kayla really worked hard on her skills. She’s a good mover on the court,” said Peabody head coach Lorraine Benoit. “She’s a viable candidate for first or second singles. It’s a toss up between her and Rachael (Gillis).”
Chhan will play second singles while Hodas is overseas and will move back to third singles upon Hodas’ return. Last season, Chhan was 14-2 at third singles. She’s got a great cross-court forehand and is a self-taught tennis player who has impressed her teammates.
“Dany Chhan is a player of power and intellect. She uses her intelligence to place the ball and keep her opponent moving and uses her strength to end the point with a fast ball,” Gillis said. “She is a great player, teammate and co-captain to have.”
Grimalyak returns to her duties on the Tanners’ first doubles team. When the team is fully healthy, her partner will be junior Eleni Petromelis, who was a strong contributor at second doubles as a sophomore last season. Petromelis right now looks like she’ll be the one to move up to third singles while Hodas is away.
Sophomores Tori Thompson and Alisa Pereira are the front-runners for the second doubles team.