Defending champs about seizing opportunities

The Naugatuck girls tennis team will be led by seniors, from left, Syada Sultana, Floraine Evardo, Lori Dietz, Kelly Murphy and (missing from photo) Diana Velasco. –KEN MORSE

NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck girls tennis team surprised everyone but themselves last year by capturing the NVL championship.

The Greyhounds entered the postseason last year as the No. 5 seed in the NVL and went on to post back-to-back 4-3 wins over Woodland and Sacred Heart to reach the finals. Living up to head coach Jose Sendra’s motto of “playing your best when it matters the most,” Naugy stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to stun Watertown in the final and win the title, 4-3.

“Last season was just an incredible run,” said Sendra, who is entering his seventh season at the helm and has a career mark of 81-33.

Incredible seems like such a small word when compared to what the Greyhounds accomplished last year. Naugatuck needed to replace five starters from a team that went 17-2 in 2015 and lost in the NVL semifinals.

“We were lucky,” Sendra said. “And what I mean by that is luck is when opportunity meets skill. If we continue to work on getting better at our skill, when the opportunity shows up we can seize it like we did last year.”

So what do the Greyhounds have in store for an encore? They bring back four seniors and three juniors teeming with experience to defend their title. But according to Sendra, who sounds cautiously optimistic, the team still needs to go out and get better every day.

“Sarah Cook won the Fossbender Award as the top senior in the league and she will be tough to replace,” Sendra said. “Ally Mezzo is going to be tough to replace. Nicole Bolduc lost only two matches all season. Those girls are going to be tough to replace.

“The key is to get better each day. It doesn’t have to be a huge jump, just a little every day and when it comes time to play at our best when it matters the most we will be ready to do so.”

The Greyhounds will be led by tri-captains seniors Floraine Evardo and Kelly Murphy and junior Kelly Carr this season.

Evardo is a two-time All-NVL doubles player. Murphy is an All-NVL doubles semifinalist, and Carr is lined up to take over the number one singles role. Seniors Lori Dietz and Diana Velasco bring a wealth of experience and confidence back, along with juniors Patricia Escaleira and Gina Greco, who went undefeated in the NVL tournament last year.

“Every year you are going to graduate some players,” Sendra said. “We were fortunate last year that we did have some occasions to use some of our younger players, and I will be looking for those girls to step up and fill some roles this year.

“Junior Kelly Redmond and sophomores Allison Bolduc, Sabrah Cegelski, Ezra Ceermenika and Justes Cureton all saw some time and could get the opportunity to fill some roles.”

Sendra continued, “Once we get to around the tenth match of the season the lineup is set due to CIAC rules. So there is opportunity for others to get time before then and it all depends on how they develop in practice, getting better each day.”

Naugatuck is scheduled to open the season April 3 at against Kennedy at Chase Park in Waterbury. The Greyhounds then have a home match on April 7 versus St. Paul.