SCOTCH PLAINS, N.J. -- To say that Rick LaBelle is enthusiastic about taking over as Union Catholic's Head Boys Tennis Coach this season is an understatement.
"I'm really looking forward to the season,'' said LaBelle, who has taught chemistry at UC since 2016. "I feel like teaching in a way is a lot like coaching, being able to form young people into being young, responsible adults.''
Coach LaBelle, a Florida native who graduated from Florida State in 2011, said he's focusing on basic skills right now and his primary objective is to have every player show improvement over the course of the season.
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"In the beginning, I'm focusing on honing in on the basic skills, and assessing where their skill levels are before we do our rankings,'' said Coach LaBelle. "Overall, the goal is to be able to get them to the point where they can look back and see that they went from A to B, and hopefully to C, and that they still weren't at A at the end of the season.''
Coach LaBelle, who has 14 boys on the team, has asked his captains to be very active.
"I have my captains (Terry Lin and Matt D'Aleo) working collaboratively to come up with our drills and stretches,'' said Coach LaBelle, who will coach his first match when the Vikings open the season at home on April 4 vs. Linden at Kramer Manor Park in Scotch Plains. "It gives them ownership and empowers them to lead their peers.''
Union Catholic Athletic Director Dave Luciano is excited about the addition of Coach LaBelle to the UC coaching staff
"The first thing that struck me about Rick was his excitement, and the more I've talked to the more that excitement has continued,'' said Luciano. "And I think that it's something that will carry throughout the season, and will become contagious with the kids. He's been in our building a couple years, and he knows the way we do things here at the school, and he's excited to get involved with the tennis boys and become part of the coaching staff.''
Luciano said the players on the team will enjoy playing for Coach LaBelle.
"Beyond the game and what will take place on either side of the net, I feel comfortable knowing that Rick will do a great job communicating with the boys and relating to the boys and putting them in spots where they can be successful,'' said Luciano. "I guarantee the kids are going to enjoy spending time with him on the courts and will look forward to coming to practice, and they will look forward to getting better and competing against other teams. And I think that all comes back to the excitement and leadership that will come from their coach.''