Hawks earn No. 1 seed in NVL tournament

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Woodland’s Salma Shitia warms up before her match with Seymour’s Olivia Tabaka Tuesday afternoon in Beacon Falls. The Hawks won the match, 4-3, and earned the No. 1 seed in the Naugatuck Valley League tournament. –LUKE MARSHALL
Woodland’s Salma Shitia warms up before her match with Seymour’s Olivia Tabaka Tuesday afternoon in Beacon Falls. The Hawks won the match, 4-3, and earned the No. 1 seed in the Naugatuck Valley League tournament. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — The Woodland girls tennis team will be the No. 1 seed entering the Naugatuck Valley League tournament.

The Hawks clinched the top spot with a 4-3 win over Seymour on Tuesday, which sealed the NVL Brass Division title and allowed them to finish the regular season with a 14-1 record.

It was Woodland’s last tune-up before the team tournament, which begins Thursday and concludes Saturday. The Hawks enter as the favorite to win their first league title since 2010.

They needed every last match Tuesday to pull out the victory over the Wildcats. No. 2 singles player Rachel Mariano, who battled back from a 3-7 hole Monday to win 9-7, romped over Katherine Acquavella, 8-2, to take the Hawks’ first win.

“That was a phenomenal match for her to win,” Woodland head coach Jess DeGennaro said of Mariano’s win on Monday. “It qualified her for the state tournament, which is great because she’s a very consistent player.”

No. 4 singles player Salma Shitia also earned a win, knocking off Olivia Tabaka, 8-5. No. 2 doubles duo Emily Rioux and Jesse Erickson gained an 8-1 win while the No. 3 team of Erica Boccuzzi and Katie Rioux posted a shutout.

Woodland’s No. 1 doubles team of Liz Martin and Hope Gavigan suffered a rare loss, falling 9-8 to Cierra Green and Pallavi Kasturi. Martin and Gavigan have qualified for the state tournament and should be one of the top seeds in the NVL doubles tourney, where they are the defending silver medalists.

“You never know who can win that,” DeGennaro said. “That’s always an exciting tournament.”

Woodland’s Lauren Tompkins warms up before her match with Seymour’s Gabby Zawadzki Tuesday afternoon in Beacon Falls. –LUKE MARSHALL
Woodland’s Lauren Tompkins warms up before her match with Seymour’s Gabby Zawadzki Tuesday afternoon in Beacon Falls. –LUKE MARSHALL

The team of Ayah Galal and Emily Rioux also qualified for both tournaments. Julia Lawton, Woodland’s No. 1 singles player, suffered an 8-4 loss to Seymour’s Elli Emmanouil to barely remain on the outside of the state tournament picture. Lawton will compete in the NVL singles tourney. The league’s singles and doubles tournaments start Monday.

Woodland had a chance to run the table this season but stumbled earlier this month in a 4-3 loss to Watertown, which is the No. 3 seed in the NVL tournament. The Indians won last year’s league title.

“The immediate reaction, I was pleased because they sat together and cheered on the remaining matches, and they came back to win 7-0 the next day,” DeGennaro said of the loss to Watertown. “The problem is almost every Monday we have a slow start to the week.”

Looking back, though, DeGennaro said the team has taken positives from the only loss.

“It didn’t hurt us at all,” she said. “If anything, it motivated them. Looking back I’m glad for a loss because it makes them realize they’re not unbeatable. I think any one of the top four can win the NVL.”

Holy Cross is the No. 2 seed and St. Paul is the No. 4 seed, which was the draw DeGennaro wanted.

“I don’t want to see Holy Cross or Watertown until the finals,” DeGennaro said. “I don’t think we match up with them as well as some of the other teams. This is a team that has the talent to win it. They just need the will to win and will to prepare to win.”