BEACON FALLS — Familiar faces can be seen all around the net for the Woodland girls tennis team. With not a single senior graduating from last year’s squad, the Hawks will have returning starters up and down their lineup.
“One of our strengths this year is that we’re deep,” Woodland coach Jess DeGennaro said. “We didn’t graduate any seniors so everyone is back. We finished the season strong last year and we’re looking to carry the same momentum right now. We’re picking up right where we left off, which is good.”
The Hawks won their final two regular-season matches last season and picked up a win over Wolcott in the Naugatuck Valley League team tournament, adding plenty of confidence to a team that was nearly entirely comprised of underclassmen.
All four singles starters last season were sophomores. Top seed Julia Lawton, No. 2 Lauren Tompkins, No. 3 Rachel Mariano and No. 4 Salma Shitia are all juniors and will start the season in the same order they finished a year ago.
With so much returning in the singles ranks, DeGennaro said practices have been competitive as both returning players and newcomers fight for starting spots.
“The hardest thing right now is, because we have so much talent, figuring out our lineup,” DeGennaro said. “I keep telling them that it’s a good problem. It’s going to take a few weeks. You’ll probably see a few changes over the first few weeks to find the right positions and chemistry in doubles teams.”
The Hawks’ top doubles team is set with senior Liz Martin and junior Hope Gavigan. That duo made an improbable run to the NVL finals last season, pulling three upsets as the No. 12 seed and claiming the league championship.
With nearly the entire tournament pushed to one day because of rain, Martin and Gavigan played 63 games and had two match points in the final.
“They had an amazing run last year in the tournament so they’re excited to play together again,” DeGennaro said. “I haven’t seen two girls work together that well in years so I think they’re going to have a good season. They make each other better.”
Jesse Erickson, Emily Rioux, Ayah Galal, Erica Boccuzzi, Jenica Bartlett and Katie Rioux will also fight for playing time in the doubles ranks. DeGennaro said some of those players would have played in a normal year when the team would have to deal with graduation losses, but the competition in practice will be a valuable asset.
“Having more talented players in practice will make us better,” DeGennaro said. “Sometimes you have a big group of beginners, but now we have a lot of returning players that will make practices better. Some of these girls would usually be in the lineup but we’re deep this year and it should be competitive.”
Woodland has a challenging schedule out of the gate. The Hawks have met the challenge through the first two matches. They defeated St. Paul, last year’s league runner-up, 5-2 on Wednesday and followed up that victory with a 5-2 win over defending champion Watertown on Thursday. They’ll finish the trifecta Monday at Seymour.
“We have a tough start to the season,” DeGennaro said. “We’ll be able to tell right off the bat where we stand.”