NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck girls tennis head coach Jose Sendra’s mantra has long been for his team to “play the best when it matters the most.”
The Greyhounds have lived up to that by reaching at least the semifinals of the NVL tournament three years in row, winning the title in 2016. Last season, Naugatuck finished 13-2 and was upended in the semifinals by St. Paul.
“Every season is about developing the talent you have,” Sendra said. “Making sure we are growing and getting better every day. It’s never about how you start, it’s how you finish, and we have been fortunate to have finished strong over these past few years.
“I try and find the best players who want to work hard to get better. I try and teach them some of the skills that will help them to progress. And then I just try and stay out of their way and let them develop.”
Sendra enters his eighth season at the helm needing to replace five talented seniors that graduated.
Naugatuck graduated Kelly Murphy (12-2), Floraine Evardo (9 wins) and Diana Velasco (8-2) along with No. 1 doubles player Lori Dietz, who teamed up with Patricia Escaleira to post a sterling 12-1 mark, and doubles player Syeda Sultana.
This season, the Greyhounds will be led by seniors Kelly Carr, Kelly Redmond, Gina Greco and Escaleira. The doubles teams have been a strength of the Greyhounds, and they return the doubles tandem of Redmond and junior Sabrah Cegielski, who went 13-1 last year.
Sendra is not committed to the doubles pairing as of yet, as some double players may need to step in and fill roles in the singles lineup.
The Greyhounds have depth with junior Justes Cureton, who was in the doubles lineup last season. Juniors Amaya Jackson, Stephanie Bradley and Alison Bodyk will also have the opportunity to compete for a spot in the rotation.
But, for the most part, coach Sendra is looking at a singles lineup that will include the most experienced players. Carr will be the No. 1 singles player with Escaleira, Greco and Cegielski likely to fill out the three other singles spots.
“Very few kids in the league play tennis year round,” Sendra said. “So what we coaches do throughout the league is teach the kids how to play tennis. In our league we have some nice matchups. Watertown is always strong, Woodland and Wolcott are always there at the end. Sacred Heart really turned their program around. We all want to win, and we try and figure out how to make that happen for our kids.”
“Every year we seem to find that player who has tenacity, like Kelly Murphy last year,” Sendra added. “This year our tenacity player is Gina Greco. She is a battler and a black belt. She does not like to lose and that makes you into a tenacity kind of player. Sabrah Cegielski has a lot of natural talent and Brielle Behuniak is what Kelly Murphy called the GOAT — greatest of all time. She’s just an athlete that knows how to get it done.”
The Greyhounds get the season underway Monday when they host Kennedy. Naugatuck will finish out the first week of the season next Friday at St. Paul.