A first for Naugatuck tennis

Members of the Naugatuck girls tennis team celebrate after beating Watertown, 4-3, to win the Naugatuck Valley League team tournament championship May 18 at Wilby High School in Waterbury. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

WATERBURY — Time to clear off a shelf in the trophy case at Naugatuck High School to display the hardware that the boys and girls tennis teams brought back to the borough.

For the first time in Naugatuck High tennis history, the boys and girls teams won the Naugatuck Valley League championship in the same season.

A journey that began in early April with most players dressed like they were going out into a snow storm instead of playing tennis, culminated May 18 at the Wilby High School courts with the sun shining high and the temperatures climbing into the 70s.

A picture-perfect ending to a picture-perfect season for the Greyhounds.

For the girls, it was a bit of redemption after heading into last year’s final undefeated only to loss to Sacred Heart.

“We were undefeated last year and Sacred Heart took it to us in the finals,” head coach Jose Sendra. “Maybe we weren’t emotionally ready. This year the girls were a little hardened, and facing Pomperaug from the SWC in our last match of the season certainly got us ready for the pressure we would face in the NVL tournament.”

In nine seasons at the helm, Sendra has compiled a 129-36 record — an impressive ledger considering he began his tennis coaching career 0-5. He guided the girls to the NVL title in 2016 when the Greyhounds trailed 3-1 against three-time champion Watertown before winning all three doubles matches to claim the championship — a win that rivaled the drama this month on Wilby’s courts.

This season, Sendra had help from assistant coach Stephanie DeLuca, a former NVL tennis champion herself.

Under former head coach Anthony Mariano, the boys team reached the semifinals the past three seasons, but no further. This year, head coach Brett Hayward — in his second go-around at the helm — and assistant coach Bob Mezzo brought them across the finish line to win the boys’ first NVL title since 2007.

“Anthony (Mariano) is the one who put this foundation together, he deserves the credit,” Hayward said. “I recruited some of these kids over from basketball when I coached in 2015 and then Anthony brought them to the semifinals three years in a row. He handed the baton back over to me and it’s these kids who got the job done. Assistant coach Bob Mezzo has a real tennis mind and he was a great asset to help these kids get over the hump.”