Hawks duo nets NVL silver

Woodland's Liz Martin returns the ball as her teammate Hope Gavigan looks on during NVL girl's doubles tennis semifinals at Woodland High School in Beacon Falls last Saturday. The pair went on to win the silver medal at the competition. –RA ARCHIVE

BEACON FALLS — Liz Martin and Hope Gavigan spent more than 12 hours baking in the hot sun at Woodland last Saturday. But they were there for good reason.

The Hawks’ top doubles team made an improbable run to the Naugatuck Valley League tournament final, narrowly losing in the championship match after perhaps the most grueling day of tennis ever played in the Valley.

Martin and Gavigan, seeded 12th in the tournament, pulled three upsets and nearly won the whole thing. Two match points slipped away with the team leading Seymour’s Shannon Landock and Danielle Sahni, 7-5, and the Wildcats’ duo roared back for a 9-7 victory.

All in all, Martin and Gavigan played 63 games of tennis — nearly as many as it would take to play a five-set match at the U.S. Open with each set going to a tiebreaker — en route to the silver medals.

“I was playing on two hours of sleep,” said Martin, who started playing the morning after she attended Woodland’s post-prom party that didn’t end until almost 4 a.m. “But I’m a three-sport athlete so being in good shape helped me a lot.”

“It was unbelievable to watch,” Woodland coach Jess DeGennaro said. “Watching them play, it was just teamwork at its best. They played together as a team and helped each other through. I saw them get closer and closer as the matches went on. They wanted it so badly for each other. That’s what I think kept them going.”

They barely qualified for the tournament in the first place after only playing seven matches together during the regular season.

“We were just happy they were going to be able to play,” DeGennaro said.

But once they were allowed in as the No. 12 seed, they started wreaking havoc on some of the best duos in the league.

In the first round, they swept No. 21 Jazmin Troche and Naijan Lewis of Crosby, 8-0. From the second round on, Martin and Gavigan were underdogs against higher seeds.

The first upset came against No. 5 Kiley Rosengrant and Alexa Obran of Torrington, whom the Hawks’ pair beat, 8-6. Next up was an 8-4 win over No. 4 Alexa Ramos and Lani Chucta of Naugatuck.

Martin and Gavigan saved the biggest upset for the semifinals, when they took down No. 1 Angela Sabino and Gianna Sabino of St. Paul, 8-4. It was the first match the Falcons’ top pair lost all season.

“We wanted to beat them so badly,” Martin said. “We had lost to them twice before this season. That one was a little bit surprising but it felt so good.”

The Woodland duo held a late lead against Landock and Sahni, but exhaustion started taking its toll on both teams.

“Both teams were so tired in the last match,” DeGennaro said. “They were having trouble keeping score and remembering who was serving. It got to the point where my coaching was just telling them to hit the yellow ball over the net.”

“Hope and I are going to come back next year and hopefully be able to do better,” Martin said.

Woodland’s Rachel Mariano returns a shot during the opening round of the Class S tournament Tuesday in Beacon Falls. The Hawks lost to St. Paul, 5-2. –LUKE MARSHALL

In the singles tournament, both Julia Lawton and Rachel Mariano made the second round. Lawton, seeded 12th, beat Ansonia’s Mary Kraynak, 8-2, in the first round, before losing to Naugatuck’s Miranda Jang. Mariano, ranked 15th, defeated Watertown’s India Trotman, 8-1, prior to her second-round loss to Watertown’s Kelly Lewis.

Woodland’s No. 2 doubles team of Ayah Galal and Emily Rioux also qualified for the doubles tournament as the No. 22 seed but lost to Sacred Heart’s Eladia Watkins and Francesca Chieffo, 8-6, in the first round.

The Hawks lost their Class S opening-round tournament match against St. Paul, 5-2, on Tuesday, to end their season at 9-10 overall. Woodland won the final three matches of the regular season just to qualify for both postseason tournaments.

“The fact that we qualified and reached our goals meant a lot to them,” DeGennaro said. “I think it’s really motivating them to improve for next year. I hear them talking about next year already and that’s exciting to hear as a coach.”