NHS girls’ tennis 9-0 with win over Kennedy

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NAUGATUCK — It’s no surprise that halfway through the season, a local girls’ tennis team is undefeated. That the team hails from the borough, not the Woods, however, is a stunner.

The Greyhounds are led by a coach, Jodie Ruccio, who had never played tennis—never mind taught it—until March. Their roster is such a hodgepodge of first-time players and athletes borrowed from other sports that 14 different girls have played in at least one match.

Yet Naugatuck was 9-0, as of last Wednesday’s 6-1 win over Kennedy. April’s back-to-back victories over Holy Cross and Woodland—teams that produced the 2009 Naugatuck Valley League tournament final four singles players, all of whom returned this season—sent a message that Naugy is a contender.

“Although we are [undefeated], we know we have a lot of hard work ahead of us,” Ruccio said. “We have a match to finish against Wolcott, which we were trailing, three games to one, and we still have to play St. Paul and Seymour. We also know the second time around in our league is going to be much tougher [than the first].”

The remainder of the Wolcott match, delayed because of rain, will be played Saturday at 10 a.m. at Wolcott High. St. Paul is 6-2, with losses to Woodland and Seymour; the defending league champion Wildcats are 8-2, with losses to Woodland and Holy Cross.

While many NHS players are newcomers, the Garnet and Grey do have experience at the top. Senior captain Meghan Toth is in the midst of another splendid campaign as the team ace, compiling a 9-1 record at No. 1 singles. Her lone defeat was an 8-5 decision against the Crusaders’ two-time league champion, Dre Moschello. Classmate and fellow captain Sarah Yacavone has filled the No. 2 slot vacated by Debbie DaSilva and posted an 8-2 mark.

After that pair, it’s all sophomores in the singles department. Miranda Jang has followed up a strong freshman season with a 5-4 record at third singles, while three others have split time in the fourth spot. Ruccio has tapped Kaitlyn Carter, also a diver, most frequently, and she has responded by winning four of seven matches. Alexa Ramos is 1-0 and Andrea Jiminez 1-1.

The No. 1 doubles team of Marissa Sounanthanam and Kate Dana is 6-3. Soccer players Danielle Charette and Rebeka Mitchell, both seniors but new to the tennis program, are 6-0 in the second slot; Mitchell is also 2-0 with Elicia Young, who typically plays third doubles with Katie Bottinick, another soccer star. Young and Bottinick are 5-1. Jiminez and Courtney Quarles have twice teamed up, in the last doubles spot, and won both times, including the decisive, 8-3 victory over Holy Cross’ Megi Cracari and Cecelia Yabat. Ramos and Meghan Wilson are 1-0, in their lone pairing.

“The girls are willing to put the work in and have seen how hard work pays off,” Ruccio said. “We will continue to work on limiting our own mistakes and finishing matches when we are ahead.”

No doubt this band of largely novice players has more to learn, but so far it has thrived on natural athleticism. NHS Athletic Director Tom Pompei credits Ruccio with attracting some of the school’s best athletes to the team.

“We always had good numbers with girls’ tennis, but Jodie, who’s got very little tennis experience but all the girls in the school know her as a coach of other things, basketball most importantly, [is a reason why] we had 50 girls try out for tennis this year,” Pompei said. “That’s no coincidence; it’s because they want to come play for Jodie because she’s a great coach, the kids love her, and she teaches.”

She even grades like a teacher.

“Halfway through the season, we give ourselves a B-minus,” Ruccio said, “and will look to improve to an A-minus [or] A by the time NVLs and states roll around.”