Hawks challenged early

Woodland’s Rachel Poulos returns a shot during a match against Naugatuck’s Sabrah Cegielski April 10 at Naugatuck High School. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — With the toughest part of its schedule in the rearview, the Woodland girls tennis team is ready to start improving and building momentum over the next few weeks.

The Hawks started the season with a 2-3 record, two of those losses coming to the Naugatuck Valley League’s defending champion and runner-up, Sacred Heart and Naugatuck. Woodland also fell to Wolcott and earned a tight victory over another perennially strong squad in St. Paul.

“The league is definitely strong this year,” Woodland coach Jess DeGennaro said. “There are a lot of competitive teams and experienced players on all the teams. This year the league is the strongest I’ve seen in my many years of coaching.”

All but one of the Hawks’ meets during the first two weeks of the season were tight. Their first two losses came by 4-3 margins, followed by a 4-3 win over St. Paul and a 5-2 loss to Naugatuck.

DeGennaro attributed the defeats to a combination of the opponents’ strength and some early-season jitters from her own team.

“We have the talent. We have to make the transition from practice to match play, which is hard,” DeGennaro said. “We have to work on that over the next couple of weeks. We need the same intensity, competitiveness and looseness. The nerves are getting to us at some point, so they have to get more comfortable.”

Some of the Hawks’ most consistent play has come from their No. 1 singles player, Rachel Poulos, and the defending NVL doubles runners-up, Mia Piccolo and Alanna Carasone.

Poulos rebounded from a defeat against St. Paul’s Kimena Marin by topping Naugy’s Sabrah Cegielski, 8-6, during their match April 10.

Woodland’s Kaitlyn Crosby returns a shot during a match against Naugatuck’s Catarina Rego April 10 at Naugatuck High School. –LUKE MARSHALL

“Rachel played the best I’ve seen her play in her career,” DeGennaro said of Poulos’ effort against the Greyhounds. “She went from No. 4 singles to No. 1 singles, so that’s a big change. Every time she gets on the court, she’s improving — both the physical part and the mental aspect. I see where I want her to place the ball and she does it. She’s growing as a player.”

Piccolo and Carasone, who made a bit of a surprise run to the NVL doubles final last season, have continued that momentum into this season.

“They’re phenomenal to watch,” DeGennaro said. “The chemistry between them — they’re going to be hard to beat this year.”

Woodland will host morning meets against Torrington on Wednesday and Seymour on Thursday. The Hawks will visit Holy Cross on April 22.