WATERBURY — The Naugatuck girls tennis team pulled victory from the jaws of defeat to win the Naugatuck Valley League tournament championship for the second time in the last four years — and the Greyhounds did it in dramatic fashion.
With the championship match between No. 1 Naugatuck and No. 3 Watertown tied at 3-3, a throng of excited tennis fans surrounded the fences Saturday at Wilby High School’s tennis courts to watch the winner-take-all No. 1 doubles match between Naugatuck’s Brielle Behuniak and Hailey Russell and Watertown’s Morgan Bennett and Charina Mahalo. What they witnessed was a comeback for the ages.
The Greyhound fans grew quiet as Behuniak and Russell fell behind 5-2. It appeared that the Naugatuck girls wouldn’t follow in the footsteps of the boys team, which won the championship just hours earlier.
But, over the next hour and a half, the Naugatuck tandem battle back to take a 9-7, come-from-behind win and give the Greyhounds a 4-3 victory and the NVL title.
“I will admit we were a little nervous being down 5-2,” Behuniak said. “It all came down to consistency. Once we got into a flow we just focused on one point at a time.”
“We were just trying to cancel out the pressure and the noise from the crowd,” Russell said. “Knowing the match would be decided with us was very nerve racking, but we managed to collect ourselves and get it back. When the last point was scored, we started crying it felt so good.”
As Behuniak and Russell hugged on the court through tears of joy, their teammates busted through the gate to mob them in celebration.
“When it was finally over you are not even sure if it happened, it was that stressful,” Naugatuck head coach Jose Sendra said. “I’m so proud of these girls.”
The Greyhounds (18-1) won three out of the four singles matches to put them in position for the title.
Catarina Rego gave Naugatuck the spark it needed with an 8-4 win at No. 2 singles versus Abby Holley, and her sister Cristina Rego pulled off an 8-4 win, too, at No. 3 singles against Alba Xhema
“The coaches are really great and had us prepared for this,” Catarina Rego said. “It was a great team win.”
Sabrah Cegielksi battled for every point, but fell short at No. 1 singles against Sarah Cipriano.
Yahna Ancheta battled back from a 4-3 deficit to earn an 8-5 victory in No. 4 singles versus Bianca Way to give Naugatuck a 3-1 advantage in singles play.
“We knew we had to come out and take as many singles matches that we could, and I was just happy to be able to do my part,” Ancheta said.
Sendra described Ancheta’s victory as crucial for the Greyhounds.
“I think the key was Yahna (Ancheta) winning our number four singles that tied the match and allowed us to play that final doubles for the title,” Sendra said. “We knew Sabrah (Cegielski) would battle at number one. We knew Catarina and Cristina (Rego) would give us a chance at two and three. But Yahna has a way of turning it on when she is behind. She did it in the quarterfinals, the semifinals and again today in the finals.”
Watertown’s Emma Kite and Chloe Vehok won the No. 3 doubles match 8-5 over Ashley Antunes and Adriana Moreno.
Naugatuck almost clinched the title in a tight affair in the No. 2 doubles match, but Watertown’s Kiara Hima and Morgan Holley pulled out a 9-8 (7-2) win over Abby Lariccia and Natalie Paradise to set the stage for the day’s dramatic conclusion.