NAUGATUCK — When Jodie Ruccio took over this season for girls’ tennis coach Amanda Petruzzi, who took the year off to study for her master’s degree abroad, the girls’ basketball coach knew little about the sport. But she did know a little bit about coaching and how to get the most out of her players.
Ruccio and assistant coach Carl Evangilista certainly had their work cut out for them, but it helped that the Greyhounds had three returning singles players to ease the burden.
What transpired was a learning experience for both the coach and the team. And somewhere along the way came success to the tune of an 18-3 season, a Copper Division title and a second place finish to Woodland in the NVL tournament. Not bad for a coach who didn’t know much about the sport.
“Not only didn’t I know a whole lot about tennis,” said Ruccio, “I didn’t know a lot about the other teams in the league, and that made it even harder to prepare for the opponent.
“So I relied on our athleticism. I got the girls in the best possible shape to succeed. Five out of our ten starters never played before this season. So they pretty much learned the game right along side me.
“Fortunately we had a little bit of a starting point, led by the returning number-one singles player, senior captain Meghan Toth.”
Senior Sarah Yacavone and sophomore Miranda Jang also returned, “giving us something to go by,” Ruccio said.
Naugatuck began the year with a win over Torrington. A few weeks later, they knocked off neighboring rival Woodland by a 5-2 margin, dealing the 16-1 Hawks their only setback of the season.
“The Torrington coach told me after that season opening win that based on what he saw, we would be a middle-of-the-road type of team,” Ruccio said. “That only inspired us to go out there and prove to the rest of the league that we were much more than that.”
It certainly fueled the fire, as Toth went on to put up a 15-3 regular season record as the Greyhounds closed in on the Copper Division title.
Yacavone went 9-3 on the season with Jang gaining valuable experience as the Hounds’ number-one player of the future. Sophomore Kaitlyn Carter worked hard throughout the season in the number-four slot and became the most improved player on the squad.
What brought all the pieces into place for a run at the Division was the play of the three doubles teams, which made Naugatuck a formidable opponent throughout the league.
Seniors Kaitlyn Dana and Marissa Sounanthanam the number one doubles team, led the way until the NVL tournament was approaching. At that point, sophomore Courtney Quarles stepped in for Sounanthanam, who needed to concentrate on her role as the Class of 2010 Valedictorian.
“Marissa is not only a gifted athlete, she’s a gifted student with a GPA well above 4.0,” Ruccio said.
“Courtney stepped in and did a great job for us and worked real well with Kaitlyn.”
Senior Elicia Young and sophomore Katie Bottinick filled the number-three doubles slot. But the true lesson in overcoming adversity through athleticism belonged to the number-two doubles team of seniors Danielle Charette and Rebeka Mitchell, who ran off with a 21-1 season record and a silver medal in the NVL open.
“That’s what happens when you put two pure athletes together who are going to do whatever it takes to win,” Ruccio said.
“They were a little unorthodox in their style, but they went out and shocked quite a few opponents and quickly gained a reputation as a force to be dealt with.
“I’m not sure about the history of the program outside of last year’s team under Amanda went 16-4 and lost in the first round of the states.
“The girls are telling me this is the best record we’ve ever had. Imagine that: The first trophy I win as a basketball coach is for tennis.
“But it’s to the credit of the girls who went out and worked hard, never gave up and gave it everything they had.”
Naugatuck will look to bring home its first win in the state tournament when they take on the winner of the Norwich Free Academy-Cheshire playdown match that will be played prior to the first round on Wednesday at the Naugatuck courts.