Naugatuck ready for challenge

Naugatuck’s Matt Triscritti returns a shot against Wolcott’s Alex Hale during a match at Naugatuck High School May 8. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck boys tennis team didn’t come into the season as an unknown, but no one predicted the team’s development into a NVL contender.

The program’s ascension didn’t come overnight, but it happened somewhat quickly under the watch of second-year head coach Anthony Mariano. Two years ago, the team finished 5-11. Last year, the Greyhounds finished 9-6 and the earned the No. 4 seed in the NVL tournament, where they won a quarterfinal match before falling to eventual champion Wolcott.

The Greyhounds lost their No. 1 seed Jonas Mauermann, an exchange student from Germany, but returned three reliable seniors this year.

Marco Rebelo at No. 1 singles, PJ. Morrissey (10-1) at No. 3 singles and Matt Triscritti (10-2) at No. 5 singles give the ‘Hounds the kind of experience to make a run.

“We did lose our number one from last year,” Mariano said. “Marco stepped into that role this year, and although he’s taken the brunt of the opposition, he’s developed into a very good player and leader on this team.

“P.J. is where I thought he would be earning ten wins this year, but seeing Matt step up and getting ten wins has really strengthened the back end of the lineup.”

The Greyhounds finished the regular season 10-5 after dropping matches to Wolcott, 8-1, on Monday, Watertown, 5-4, on Tuesday, and Torrington, 8-1, on Wednesday.

The NVL quarterfinals and semifinals are scheduled for May 15 and May 17, respectively, on the higher seed’s court. The final is set for May 19 at 3 p.m. at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls with a rain date of May 20. Seedings will be announced this week.

Four of Naugatuck’s five losses were to Wolcott and Torrington, the top teams in the NVL. Wolcott hasn’t lost a match in three seasons, and Torrington is a team that has the talent to reach the final.

The last time Wolcott did lose a NVL match was to Naugatuck when this year’s seniors were just freshmen coming into the program.

The Greyhounds’ underclassmen this year give the team some depth to play with.

Naugatuck’s PJ Morrissey hits a shot against Wolcott’s Matt Spina during a match at Naugatuck High School May 8. –LUKE MARSHALL

Sophomore Mike Rivera has continued to improve his game and has solidified the No. 2 spot. Junior Alec Durante (8-3) and sophomore Brandon Sampaio were undefeated at 7-0 heading into Wednesday’s match. Freshman Jay Mezzo has been impressive with a 6-2 mark in singles play.

“We have a shot, and facing Wolcott and Torrington in the last week of the season will have us prepared to see what we are up against,” Mariano said. “I knew we would be a pretty good team, but the development of Matt and Alec along with players like Brandon and Jay stepping up has really made us into a team that can challenge some of these top teams.”

It will come down to the strength of the doubles teams.

Rebelo and Rivera make a very solid tandem at No. 1 doubles. Both have earned victories in singles and doubles this season and they work real well out on the court communicating. Morrissey and Triscritti are paired up at No. 2 doubles.

Naugatuck is strong at the No. 3 doubles spot with Durante, Mezzo and Sampaio. Any two of the three could team up and give Naugy the edge they need to play for an NVL title.

Mariano points to the team’s consistency for its ascension.

“We try and take a little bit from each match and try and build on that,” Mariano said. “It’s definitely a good opportunity for us to see how much we have progressed as a team. There is a lot of character and passion on this team and it carries over into the competitive edge that gives you.

“We are going to prepare and be as ready as we can be going into the tournament. Either way in order to get to the finals we know going in that we are going to have to beat Wolcott or Torrington to get there, and we are ready for that challenge.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the version that appears in the May 12 edition to include results through May 10.