Baptism by fire

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Young Hawks seek to carry on tennis legacy

Woodland seniors and boys tennis captains, from left, Alex Tulk, Dan Johnson and Pat Mulholland will be looked on to lead a mostly young squad this season. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Woodland seniors and boys tennis captains, from left, Alex Tulk, Dan Johnson and Pat Mulholland will be looked on to lead a mostly young squad this season. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — The Woodland boys tennis team may have to adjust its expectations just a bit as it comes off the most successful season in school history.

The Hawks won their third straight Naugatuck Valley League championship last year and swept the individual gold medals at the NVL tournament. All three of those medalists — Kyle Beynor, Steve Pec and Pat Dietz — have departed, along with many other starting players.

Jim Amato has also stepped down from his post as Woodland’s head coach to spend more time with his family, so former Hawks girls head coach Mike Magas will join the team in its journey back down to earth.

“Since I had experience with the girls team, I jumped at the opportunity,” Magas said.

Woodland fielded a 17-man roster last year, but the departure of nine seniors leaves the Hawks with only nine players this spring. That means, with 12 starting positions to fill, that many players will end up playing two matches at each meet.

“They’re all going to be playing a lot of tennis this year, which will be good for the sophomores,” Magas said. “It will be good for all of them to be thrown into the fire. They realize that this is their team now.”

The Hawks have three returning seniors, including Pat Mulholland, Dan Johnson and Alex Tulk. They all figure to be starting singles players, as well as sophomores Mike Roulanaitis and Jack Walsh. The latter two won a Class S state tournament doubles match together last season to become the first freshmen in school history to achieve that feat.

“We’ve got three seniors who have been with the team for a few years and they have experience,” Magas said. “We’ll be an inexperienced team at the varsity level, but they’re working hard in practice.”

The No. 6 singles spot is still up for grabs among several players, and most of the singles players will have to play in the doubles ranks. There are six singles matches and three doubles matches during each NVL meet.

Woodland will enter this season with a 54-match NVL winning streak still alive after going 18-0 over each of the last three seasons. With the Hawks having established such dominance in the league, Magas said he’s talked to his team about the target that will be on its back — even though the team will be without its most successful players ever.

“Obviously winning three in a row, the league is gunning for us,” Magas said. “They don’t care who graduated or who’s returning, but everyone’s goal is to beat Woodland on a daily basis. They’ll have to be prepared for that and work extra hard in practice.”

Magas said he’s not familiar enough with the other teams yet to set expectations in the league, he hopes for his inexperienced group to play like veterans before too long.

“Our goal right now is to have them playing better at the end of the season than right now,” Magas said.

Woodland will open its season April 9 at home against Sacred Heart. The Hawks will hit the road April 10 against Crosby before visiting Naugatuck, which could be among the league favorites, on April 12.