Souhegan’s Lapsley shooting for the tennis trifecta this spring
When it comes to the game of tennis this spring, Matt Lapsely isn’t going to settle for second best.
His goals: Help Souhegan High School win the Division II state championship. Two, win the state singles title that has eluded him the last couple of years. And three, win the state doubles title with his Saber teammate Sam Goddard.
“I want all three,” Lapsley said. “I think it’s doable, we’ve just got to keep working towards it.”
“It’s nice to have a senior commit that way,” Souhegan coach John Kilgore said. “Sometimes it’s just the player. But he’s a really good teammate right now, a really good team player.”
You see, tennis for Matt Lapsley, reportedly ranked No. 1 among New Hampshire 18-year-olds by the USTA – 42 in New England and 697 nationally for 18’s – isn’t just about winning, it’s about life.
“I just love the competition,it’s just you out there and you’ve got to work through problems,” said Lapsley, arguably the state’s best high school player said. “I think it’s similar to real life in a lot of ways.”
Lapsley seemingly has always grown up with a racquet in his hand, as he started playing tennis since he was five. He was always athletic but began getting some competitive success in the sport when he was around 11 or 12. He actually won more competitive tournaments when he was that age.
“I was always athletic, but I didn’t have the hand-eye coordination I do now,” he said. “I played soccer, so the footwork was there.”
Lapsley’s progress in the last four years is basically the evolution of a high school tennis player. There was a time, probably after his freshman year at Souhegan, when the thinking was he wouldn’t return, but rather transfer to any of the tennis academy-type schools down south. But he injured his knee, and got to be more comfortable in high school with his classmates and teammates after being a loner as a freshman, and stayed a Saber.
“We joke about that every once in a while,” Kilgore said. “My objective was to make him enjoy the four years. He’s been a captain for two years, and his second year he became respected really quick and became a leader.
“He’s taken more care to pass his skills on to other players on the team. I can put him in charge of practices and practice is fine.”
That’s because Lapsley also teaches at Hampshire Hills in Milford. In fact, some of his opponents he’s had as students. While Lapsley has matured mentally, he’s also done the same physically, adding more power to his game.
“It’s nice to watch because the power comes with control,” Kilgore said. “Now he can play either game (power or finesse) and he never gives anything away. That combination, that’s why he can play well against the big seniors who have the power game but don’t have the consistency. He can just push them until he gets his chance. He never wastes a shot. He hits everything like it’s the last shot in the world.”
Like any tennis player, Lapsley is his own worst critic. He says his serve is probably the best part of his game, he’s working on his volleys, but, like any tennis player, the mental aspect as well.
“I’m working on my mental game, to stay calmer,” he said.
Lapsley plays about four or five times a week on average year round, maybe more in the summer. He’ll likely move on to play at a Division II school next year but isn’t ready to say just where yet.
“He’s had about 150 offers or approaches (from schools),” Kilgore said. “He’s still deciding, looking for scholarship money and other things.”
But what he’s looking for the most is to win.
“I feel like everyone expects, or I expect, myself to win, to compete,” Lapsley said. “It was hard last year losing in the (team and individual) semifinals in states.”
The Sabers lost in the state semis last spring to Lebanon. Two years ago Lapsley lost to Concord’s Justin Toler in the singles finals, and last year fell to Lebanon’s Jacob Peress in the semis. What made that frustrating was the fact he had beaten the Raider senior twice during the season and Lapsley was the top seed entering the tournament.
“Just a bad day,” Kilgore said.“It wasn’t his best match.”
What separates those matches from winning and losing?
“I guess my mental game,” Lapsley said. “I guess I wasn’t completely calm then, but I’m working on that.”
“He’s stronger this year,” Kilgore said. “Last year he didn’t have quite the winners he has this year. Last year he was sick, he came in a little underweight. He’s a little beefier this year. … And he’s serious this year.”
Not that he hasn’t been before, but Matt Lapsley knows this could be his and the Sabers’ year.
And after all, good things can also come in threes, can’t they?