BEACON FALLS — In a moment that was one of only a few lows in the Woodland girls tennis season, Hawks coach Jess DeGennaro found solace and satisfaction.
When Woodland dropped the Naugatuck Valley League team tennis final to Watertown last month, DeGennaro wasn’t devastated by the upset. Instead, she stepped back and saw the big picture.
“One of the players asked me why I wasn’t more upset, and it took me a few days to realize why,” DeGennaro said. “It was because they became the team I wanted them to become at the beginning of the season. I had an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction. I felt they became the best team they could have become this season.”
The Hawks (16-3) lost only three team matches this season: Watertown knocked them off twice and East Catholic handed Woodland a 5-2 defeat in the first round of last week’s Class S state tournament.
No. 2 singles player Rachel Mariano and the doubles teams of Liz Martin-Hope Gavigan and Emily Rioux-Ayah Galal also qualified for the state open. Martin and Gavigan won the NVL doubles championship after a silver medal in 2012, and the Hawks were well represented in the latter rounds of the league singles and doubles tournaments.
Mariano and No. 1 singles player Julia Lawton both made the singles quarterfinals as juniors. They, along with No. 3 Lauren Tompkins and No. 4 Salma Shitia, gave Woodland a consistent singles lineup.
Mariano, Tompkins and Shitia will all return next season, along with Gavigan, Galal and Erica Boccuzzi, who teamed with Jesse Erickson at No. 3 doubles. Martin, Rioux and Erickson will graduate and Lawton is moving to South Carolina, according to DeGennaro. That will leave plenty of spots open in Woodland’s lineup for next season.
“There will be four spots open, and some possible changes from doubles to singles,” DeGennaro said. “We’ll be looking for at least four people to fill in. Next year will be different. This year was special because we didn’t graduate anyone last year, so they were together for two years. There will be a different team chemistry next year.”
Six of the 10 regular starters will be back, though, which has DeGennaro optimistic. She was also impressed by the improvement of newcomers who didn’t crack the starting lineup but were valuable practice players.
“We still have a very talented group of girls returning,” DeGennaro said. “We had strong players at Nos. 3-4 singles and Nos. 2-3 doubles who will be in bigger roles next year. Some of the new players who improved so much this year will get to see some playing time. I’m looking forward to next year when some of the younger players get to step into those roles.”
This year, though, will be remembered as the year that elevated Woodland girls tennis back to the top echelon of the NVL after a few years’ absence.
“This team left big shoes to fill,” DeGennaro said. “I’m really proud of the example this team set.”