Hawks shaking things up

Woodland seniors, from left, Salma Shitia, Rachel Mariano, Hope Gavigan, Lauren Thompkins and Ayah Galal will lead the defending Naugatuck Valley League Brass Division champions. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Woodland seniors, from left, Salma Shitia, Rachel Mariano, Hope Gavigan, Lauren Thompkins and Ayah Galal will lead the defending Naugatuck Valley League Brass Division champions. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — It will be a year of consistency and change for the Woodland girls tennis team.

The Hawks, who won the Naugatuck Valley League Brass Division title last year, enjoyed one of their best seasons in several years and finished with a 16-3 record. They return more than half of their lineup, including a group of five seniors.

But Woodland coach Jess DeGennaro isn’t going to rest solely on the team’s experience. There’s going to be some change involved, too.

“They all have a lot of experience,” DeGennaro said. “Right now we’re working on shifting some of them out of their comfort zone.”

Woodland didn’t have any senior singles players last year but lost No. 1 player Julia Lawton when her family moved. That will lead senior Hope Gavigan, who won the NVL doubles title last season with Liz Martin, to fill in the top singles position.

“She worked really hard in the offseason and improved,” DeGennaro said of Gavigan.

Rachel Mariano, a senior, will keep her No. 2 singles spot. Last year’s third and fourth singles players, seniors Lauren Tompkins and Salma Shitia, will likely move from singles to doubles to fortify the team’s strength in that department.

“I may switch Lauren Tompkins and Salma Shitia to doubles because they’re four-year seniors and I want to get them into a top-two spot so they can have a chance to qualify for the tournaments,” DeGennaro said. “We’ll see how they do with doubles.”

Senior Ayah Galal will likely join Tompkins and Shitia among the top doubles lines, and juniors Erica Boccuzzi and Daphne Cianciolo figure to be in the mix for other doubles spots.

That means younger players will fill in the third and fourth singles positions, a mix of experience and youth that DeGennaro likes.

“I don’t want four seniors at singles for a lot of reasons,” DeGennaro said. “My doubles would be mostly all-new players, and it would hurt us for the future.”

Sophomore Katie Rioux will likely earn one of the remaining singles spots, and freshman Ally Mayne figures to earn the other.

“Ally Mayne has a lot of potential and talent for a young player,” DeGennaro said. “She loves tennis, and it’s exciting when you have a freshman who loves the sport. She’s clearly going to be our No. 3 singles player.”

Altogether, DeGennaro is excited about the shape of her team’s lineup this year. It could have all the makings for repeat success of last season, when Woodland reached the NVL team tournament final before falling to Watertown.

“After the first practice I felt really comfortable and confident with our lineup,” DeGennaro said. “This year there’s a little more movement, but I don’t really see any weaknesses in our lineup this year. Hopefully the new and the old blend together.”

DeGennaro expects the Hawks to “be in the mix of the top group” in the NVL, which will probably include St. Paul, Naugatuck and Seymour.

Woodland will open the season April 9 at Sacred Heart before hosting Crosby on April 10. The Hawks will face their first test April 11 at Holy Cross.

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