Naugy looks to serve up a challenge

Naugatuck High senior Mike Popescu is the captain for the boys tennis team this year. –FILE PHOTO
Naugatuck High senior Mike Popescu is the captain for the boys tennis team this year. –FILE PHOTO

NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck boys tennis team has been one of the top guns in the NVL over the last three years, compiling a 30-6 ledger under former head coach Tony Loomis. This season the Greyhounds are looking to lay the groundwork for another competitive run under new head coach Brett Hayward.

There will be a mountain of challenges to overcome. The ‘Hounds lost 10 seniors, who represented more than three-quarters of their starting lineup, to graduation. That includes All-NVL players Jeff Hensley and Jake Morrissey, who reached the NVL semifinals in the doubles competition.

“We certainly have our work cut out for us,” Hayward said. “I may not be the most experienced coach in the league, as far as knowing what our competition looks like, but I do have a pretty good idea of what it takes to build a winning team.”

Hayward is also an assistant coach on the Naugatuck boys basketball team that played for a state championship last month. There may be no comparison between the basketball court and the tennis court, but coach Hayward understands the mindset needed to overcome adversity.

“That’s half the battle,” Hayward said. “I’m going to try and bring that basketball mentality of hard work and fundamentals. That will always lead to good things happening.

“If we stay focused and practice the fundamentals of the game I see no reason why we can’t remain competitive no matter how many players we lost to graduation. We have some shoes to fill but we also have some players who have been here and they are ready to step up and fill the voids.”

It certainly doesn’t hurt the Greyhounds cause to be returning senior captain and All-NVL player Mike Popescu, who played for the NVL singles title last year. The ‘Hounds will also have a seasoned veteran in senior Jake Gingold, who is adamant about finishing strong and making a run in the NVLs and the states this season.

“It’s always hard to lose the amount of seniors we did, but if we stay focused and listen to our coach I really believe the sky is the limit for us,” Gingold said. “Mike’s leadership will elevate our play and give confidence to everyone in the lineup.”

Gingold said facing Popescu in practice each day will only help sharpen his own game.

“As a team our goal is to work hard to get better everyday,” Gingold said. “Mike is one of the best players in the NVL and to be going up against him in practice everyday is only going to make me a better player.”

The Greyhounds are young but an eager bunch. Senior Dan Mendes is out for the team for the first time. Junior Jacob Torres brings back some experience and junior Ivo Wendt joins the ranks this season. After that it all falls on the shoulders of the sophomore class with a few freshman hopefuls to fill the open spots.

Peter Morrissey, James Clark, Matt Triscritti and Marco Rebelo come into their second year with the experience of last season to guide their way. Sophomore Devon Curtis along with freshmen Danilo Assis, Alec Durante and Sebastian Opera will look to make the most out of their chances.

“The key to our success is to continue to work hard everyday to get better,” Hayward said. “Having Mike as our team leader sets the example of what it takes. Jake, our other senior returner, is a solid player and gives us stability out on the court that can lead to our overall success. It all comes down to coming prepared everyday to give it your best shot.”

Naugatuck will get right after it. The Greyhounds are scheduled to open the season on the road April 8 to take on one of the league favorites in Watertown. The Greyhounds will host Woodland in a neighboring rivalry April 9 before facing Kennedy at home April 10.