NAUGATUCK — Long after the tennis rackets are packed away at Naugatuck, this season will be long remembered as a season filled with promise. The Greyhounds girls tennis team accomplished much more than expected as it played for the Naugatuck Valley League title May 29 against Woodland.
That may not have been on head coach Jose Sendra’s radar when he assembled his squad on a cold, damp, miserable day back in April. But suddenly the word got out through the NVL that the Greyhounds were quite comfortable on the court and had the record to prove it.
After shutting out Torrington and squeaking past St. Paul in the first two rounds, the Greyhounds and Hawks squared off for the league title last Thursday in Beacon Falls. Woodland pulled out the title in a thrilling, 4-3 decision that came down to a tiebreaker in the last match.
Top singles player Hannah Kim got the Greyhounds out in front by earning an 8-2 win over Hope Gavigan. The Hawks battled back to take decisions from Kayla Gallant and Mikaela Santo, but Naugatuck tied it up when Sarah Cook won the fourth singles match in an 8-6 battle over Salma Shitia.
The Kayla Rotatori-Liz Perez duo earned an 8-4 win in the first doubles match with Woodland bouncing back to tie the match at 3-3 with a win in the second doubles showdown.
The NVL championship hung in the balance when Daphne Cianciolo and Paige Gainey edged out Chelsea Iglesias and Crystal Wooster 9-8, including a 7-4 tiebreaker.
“To finish at 17-3 and have the championship match go down to a tiebreaker says a lot about the character of the girls,” Sendra said. “The first time we played them it could have gone either way, as we lost a tough singles match by a 9-7 margin.”
During the regular season, Naugatuck made quick work of its first three opponents before running into Woodland. The Greyhounds lost that 4-3 match in a three-hour marathon, but what was accomplished went a long way in molding the team’s confidence.
It was Naugatuck’s best season since 2010, when the Greyhounds went 16-2 and landed in the Class L tournament for the first time since 2006.
Sendra took over the reins in 2011 and has slowly put together a team built on endurance and a quiet confidence. This season, armed with seven seniors, Naugatuck ripped off eight wins in a row following the loss to Woodland. The only other blemish on their record heading into the NVL tournament came at the hands of Wolcott in another 4-3 seat grabber.
Kim, Gallant and Santo set the tone as senior singles players, while Rotatori, Ashley Burkman and Iglesias headed up the three doubles squads along with Ederisi Igbuya. The continued improvement of the sophomore Cook at No. 4 singles gave the Greyhounds a solid lineup.
Juniors Perez, Wooster and Tathiana Serrano rounded out the doubles teams with juniors Isabella Hernandez, Karla Iglesias and Wynter Tremlett giving Naugatuck the most experienced unit it’s had in the past four years.
“I’m so proud of all that the girls accomplished this season,” Sendra said. “This is the best season we’ve had in the four years I’ve been here. We were so competitive with every team on our schedule and only lost to Wolcott and Woodland by slim 4-3 margins. It says a lot about the work that these girls put in. They are an amazing group of girls and they supported each other throughout the season. They did such a great job and we will certainly miss our talented group of seniors.”
Naugatuck concluded the season on June 2 with a 7-0 defeat against Greenwich in the Class L state tournament. It was a tall order for Naugy to face a Greenwich team that was Class L runner-up twice (2010 and 2012) in the past five seasons after winning four straight Class L state championships from 2006-09.