BEACON FALLS — All season long Naugatuck girls tennis coach Jose Sendra had a simple philosophy: he wanted his team to be playing the best when it mattered the most.
For one afternoon in a long season marked by hours of volleys and sets, the Greyhounds did just that, and brought home a Naugatuck Valley League championship.
No. 5 Naugatuck rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat No. 3 Watertown, 4-3, last Friday at Woodland Regional High School in the NVL girls tennis tournament final to claim the crown. The win was the first for Naugatuck in three matches this year against the Indians, who beat Naugy 6-1 twice during the regular season.
“Watertown is an excellent team,” Sendra said. “I knew it would come down to our doubles team that was swept by them a few weeks ago. So we went to work and started to do drills to get better in our shot selection and the hard work paid off.”
Trailing the Indians 3-1 after the singles portion of the match, Naugatuck had to accomplish the unthinkable: sweep all three doubles matches to win the title against a team that had won the crown three times in the last four years.
The Greyhounds’ No. 1 doubles team of Ally Mezzo and Kelly Murphy grinded out an 8-5 win over Maddie Cacciato and Julia D’Occhio. At No. 2 doubles, the tandem of Lori Dietz and Patricia Escaleira earned an 8-5 win over Watertown’s Christina Barkow and Alyssa Clifford.
With the match tied at 3-3, the title hopes of the Greyhounds rested on the No. 3 doubles team of Nicole Bolduc and Gina Greco, who had already clinched the game-winning matches over Woodland in the quarterfinals and Sacred Heart in the semifinals.
The Naugy pair made quick work out of Watertown’s Gabby Traver and Arieta Xhena earning an 8-3 win as the Greyhounds stormed the court, banner and trophy in hand, in victory.
“This whole week it was up to us,” Bolduc said. “I felt pretty confident that Gina and I could do this.”
“Nicole motivates me,” Greco said. “We motivate each other, and we were able to get through it.”
Naugatuck’s No. 2 singles player Kelly Carr picked up the lone singles win for the Greyhounds with an 8-5 decision over Watertown’s Mary Zaborowski.
“I was ahead for a while and then it turned out to be a battle,” Carr said. “It is the NVL finals so you know everyone is coming out to give their best effort. I won the last time I faced her so I knew I just had to play my game and stay focused.”
Carr’s win kept the Greyhounds alive following the singles portion of the match.
No. 1 Sarah Cook dropped a tough 8-1 match to Ava Kaverud. In No. 3 singles, Watertown’s Rachel Martineau outlasted Floraine Evardo, 8-5, and at No. 4 Liz Rinaldi got by the Greyhounds’ Diana Velasco, 8-2
For Naugatuck it all came down to coach Sendra and his mantra of playing the best when it matters the most.
Cook proved that with a key victory at the No. 1 spot in the 4-3 win against Sacred Heart in the semifinals. Evardo and Velasco picked up victories in the 4-3 quarterfinal win over Woodland.
“Coach Sendra said that we were the underdogs and that we can do anything,” Cook said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this without the effort of everyone. We worked hard for this and we truly deserve it.”
The NVL individual tournament was scheduled to start Wednesday. The Greyhounds will play next in the Class L state tournament, which starts Saturday with the qualifying round.
The Republican-American contributed to this article.