NHS tennis novice Ruccio up for a challenge

NAUGATUCK — For the second time in as many years, the Naugatuck girls’ tennis team will be under the direction of a new coach. When last year’s skipper, Amanda Petruzzi, left work on her master’s degree abroad, NHS Athletic Director Tom Pompei didn’t have to look far—but did have to look past inexperience—to find a replacement.

“I’ve never coached tennis,” admitted Jodie Ruccio, Naugatuck’s girls’ basketball coach, whom Pompei asked to take over the tennis team. “In fact, I’ve never played the game. But I do know how to coach, and I do want to win.”

Ruccio inherits a team that shares her desire for victory: last year’s Greyhounds rebounded from an 8-10 record to go 15-5 under Petruzzi. Naugy returns its Nos. 1, 3 and 4 singles players from that squad. Leading the way will be all-Naugtuck Valley League senior captain Meghan Toth, along with senior Sarah Yacavone and sophomore Maranda Jang.

Petruzzi, a former standout at Quinnipiac University, guided Naugatuck into the state tournament last season, and Ruccio has every intention of doing the same.

Ruccio is at home on the basketball court but out of her element on the tennis court. Nevertheless, she says she is ready continue the Naugy girls' tennis success.

Ruccio is at home on the basketball court but out of her element on the tennis court. Nevertheless, she says she is ready continue the Naugy girls' tennis success.

Still, she knows there will be challenges. There is a ball and a net, but that’s where the similarities end between basketball and tennis. But Ruccio and assistant coach Carl Evalgilista have been hard at work, putting the team through its paces.

“I had 40 girls come out for the team,” Ruccio said. “Even a few of my basketball players came down, and I would have loved to have them on the team. But after the first day, I realized these girls are playing serious tennis here, and I need to focus on helping them to get better.”

Several spots are still up for grabs, and seniors Danielle Charette, Caitlin Dana, Rebecca Mitchell, Alicia Young and Marissa Sounanthanam are competing for the last singles spot or roles on one of the three doubles teams.

Sophomores Jessica Buckley and Katie Bottnick have caught their new coach’s eye; a dozen sophomores make up the strength and depth of the Greyhounds this season.

“The weather hasn’t really cooperated yet, so our lineup is still being worked on,” Ruccio said. “The team is down to 20 players, and I still need to have another cut before the start of the season [April 7].

“We are doing a lot of conditioning. I want to put these girls in the best possible position to win and being in the best shape is the best place to start. The girls have adjusted real well to a new coach. They are a real tight-knit group, and they just want to play tennis and win, and so do I.”

The Greyhounds will face some stiff competition. All four of the teams to which they lost last spring—Woodland, Seymour, Torrington and Holy Cross—should be serious contenders for this year’s NVL title.

“I’m really not familiar with the rest of the league,” Ruccio said. “But we have about eight girls evenly matched for the last two doubles teams. I’m sure the lineup is going to be changing throughout the season, until I get a better look at what we have and where our strengths are.”

The Garnet and Grey will found out right away where they stand, as they host the Red Raiders to open the season Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.