The road to the Naugatuck Valley League tennis championships will go through Naugatuck.
The Greyhounds are the No. 1 seeds in the boys and girls team tournaments set to begin Monday with quarterfinals at the sites of higher-seeded teams.
The Naugatuck boys were a perfect 11-0 in the NVL until they suffered their first defeat May 1 in a 3-2 decision against Torrington. The Red Raiders swept singles play, including Kevin Dixon’s 6-3, 1-6 (10-7) super-tiebreaker win over Chris Cook at No. 1 singles.
The Greyhounds (14-2 overall, 14-1 NVL) split a pair of regular-season meetings with Torrington and swept Woodland, the two teams most likely to challenge Naugy for the league title. Wolcott and Watertown could also crash the championship picture.
Naugy coach Brett Hayward hopes the loss to Torrington will provide a spark that could lead to a championship.
“I’m hoping we can keep things going,” Hayward said. “We’ve had a good run so far. We had that hiccup, but the better team won that day. I hope it wakes them up and makes them realize they can’t be complacent. Anyone can win anytime they step on the court. With the success we’ve had, we’ve had a target on our backs. We can’t take anyone lightly.”
Naugatuck will play No. 8 Sacred Heart Monday at 2:15 p.m.
Woodland (13-2) has only lost two meets against Naugatuck and earned the No. 2 seed. The Hawks will host No. 7 Holy Cross at 3:30 p.m. Monday.
Woodland coach Mike Magas said his team knows the challenge it faces with Naugatuck and Torrington, but he added that the Hawks can’t sleep on Wolcott or Watertown, the teams likely to be the fourth and fifth seeds in the tournament.
“I really think there are five teams that can compete,” Magas said. “Every single player has to play his ‘A’ game in each match. If we do that, we stand a good chance, but if anyone’s off, we can easily be knocked out. Every match will be important, so every player has to step up.”
The tournament quarterfinals are set for Monday with the semifinals Wednesday. The team finals will be played next Friday at Wilby.
Naugy girls in same position: The Greyhounds entered last year’s NVL girls team tournament with a perfect 18-0 record before falling to Sacred Heart in the league final. Naugatuck will try to reverse its championship fortune this season after finishing the regular season perfect in NVL play again.
The ‘Hounds (15-1 overall, 15-0 NVL) have only lost one match, a 6-1 loss to Pomperaug in an out-of-league match on the final day of the regular season.
“There is no better scenario heading up to the NVL championship than facing teams that will challenge you,” Naugatuck coach Jose Sendra said earlier this season.
The Greyhounds, the tournament’s top seed, is waiting to see who their opponent will be. The No. 8 seed will be the winner of a match between Seymour and Ansonia on Saturday. The winner will face Naugatuck Monday at 4 p.m.
The Hearts have the second best record in the NVL at 14-2, setting up a potential championship rematch.
One of Naugatuck’s strength’s is its No. 1 doubles tandem of Hailey Russell and Brielle Behuniak, who could also contend for the league’s doubles title later this month.
“We play all three sports (tennis, basketball and volleyball) together, so we have good chemistry,” Russell told the Republican-American. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I think that helps us a lot.”
Woodland, which boasts a championship-contending doubles duo of its own in Alanna Carasone and Mia Piccolo, finished the regular season 10-5 in the NVL and overall after winning the last three matches.
The Hawks are the No. 5 seed and will head to Bristol Monday to play No. 4 St. Paul at 4 p.m.
Hawks coach Jess DeGennaro thinks her squad has potential to contend for the title as a low seed.
“We want to be playing our best tennis on May 13,” DeGennaro said. “The matches we’ve lost, a lot of the scores within those were 6-8 and 7-9. I don’t think we’ve played our best tennis yet. We have to be on. We can beat those teams, but we have to be on. It’s in our control. If we make fewer mistakes, we can compete with the top teams.”
The tournament quarterfinals are set for Monday with the semifinals Wednesday, both at the sites of higher-seeded teams. The team finals will be played next Friday at Woodland.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the version published in the May 9 edition of the Citizen’s News to include final records and tournament seeds.