Naugy duo up to the task

Naugatuck’s Brielle Behuniak returns a shot during the Naugatuck Valley League doubles tournament final May 21 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. Behuniak and her partner Hailey Russell defeated Sacred Hearts’ Ava Longo and Nhi Nguyen. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — When Sacred Heart decided to pair its top two singles players together in an effort to win the Naugatuck Valley League girls tennis doubles tournament, Naugy’s Brielle Behuniak and Hailey Russell knew they had a tall task.

They were up to it.

Behuniak and Russell beat the Hearts’ Ava Longo and Nhi Nguyen, 6-3, 6-4, on May 21 at Woodland to win the NVL doubles title.

“We knew they were going to be really good because they were (Nos.) 1 and 2 singles (in the regular season), so we knew we couldn’t play how we’d played previously,” Russell said. “We knew we had to play more defensively because of how good they are.”

The Greyhounds came in as the No. 2 seed in the tournament. They earned a first-round bye before earning a quarterfinal trip with an 8-3 win over an Ansonia duo.

Due to inclement weather, the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals were all played in one day at Woodland, with the quarters and semis being shortened to one set to eight games, like the regular season. Naugy cruised with an 8-1 win over a Wolcott team in the quarters and an 8-3 victory over another Sacred Heart duo in the semis to reach the finals.

“We played some pretty tough teams,” Behuniak said. “Especially playing Sacred Heart, I thought they played really competitively and it was a good match.”

Behuniak and Russell trailed, 3-2, in the second set of the final before breaking and rallying to win.

“We worked together and played defensively,” Russell said. “We had to know where they were going to go before they did it. We stayed on our toes, picked each other up when we were down, and stayed together the whole time.”

Naugatuck’s Hailey Russell returns a shot during the Naugatuck Valley League doubles tournament final May 21 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. Russell and her partner Brielle Behuniak defeated Sacred Hearts’ Ava Longo and Nhi Nguyen. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

The championship was the culmination of a two-year effort that began with their pairing last season.

“We knew we would be successful because we were doubles partners last year, so we had the chemistry,” Behuniak said. “(Coach Jose) Sendra wanted to keep us as doubles partners, knowing we had that chemistry and thinking we could get that far, and so did we.”

On the other side of the bracket, Woodland’s top-seeded duo of Alanna Carasona and Mia Piccolo cruised through their first two matches after not dropping a match during the entire regular season. Their 8-1 and 8-3 wins in the second round and quarterfinals landed them a semifinal match against Longo and Nguyen, who were seeded 21st because they spent the regular season playing singles.

Service trouble and unforced errors hindered the Hawks’ duo as they eventually suffered an 8-6 loss, falling short of a second straight trip to the NVL final but still earning All-NVL honors.

In the singles tournament, Naugatuck’s Sarah Cegielski and Catarina Rego both reached the quarterfinals before exiting. Woodland’s Rachel Poulos and Kaitlyn Crosby reached the second round.