Woodland boys aiming for NVL 3-peat

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The Woodland boys tennis team has its sights set on a third consecutive Naugatuck Valley League championship. The team is returning a core group of seniors, kneeling from left, Johan Haile, Matthew Murphy, Nick Rioux and Kyle Beynor, standing from left, Patrick Dietz, Steve Peck, Christopher Zmuda, Michael Ventimiglia and Michael Costa. -LUKE MARSHALL
The Woodland boys tennis team has its sights set on a third consecutive Naugatuck Valley League championship. The team is returning a core group of seniors, kneeling from left, Johan Haile, Matthew Murphy, Nick Rioux and Kyle Beynor, standing from left, Patrick Dietz, Steve Peck, Christopher Zmuda, Michael Ventimiglia and Michael Costa. -LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — There’s no hiding the fact that the Woodland boys tennis team is the hands-down favorite to three-peat as Naugatuck Valley League champion.

It’s easy to see why the Hawks are about as solid a lock as any team in any sport this academic year. They bring back every player but one, Jimmy Tompkins, and feature the defending NVL singles champion, Kyle Beynor.

“We are returning a team while other teams are returning players,” Woodland coach Jim Amato said. “These guys have a mission in mind and a goal they want to attain. They’re dedicated to the completion of that.”

Beynor tied a school record by reaching the third round of the Class S state singles tournament last season. He suffered just two losses, both coming outside NVL play, and Amato thinks the senior will be even better in his final season.

“I think he adds a little more to his game every year,” Amato said. “This year it’s the confidence, the other weapons, the accuracy. He’s thinking faster than he’s playing so he can see everything in front of him.”

Beynor is far from the only reason Woodland is expected to rip through the league for the third year in a row. No. 2 singles player Steve Pec, who won the NVL doubles championship last season with Tompkins, would probably be the top seed on most other teams in the conference. Matt Murphy and Pat Dietz, who won the NVL doubles silver medals last season, will be the third and fourth seeds. No. 5 Pat Mulholland and No. 6 Nick Rioux should round out the singles lineup.

“Steve Pec has really accelerated his play,” Amato said. “Matt Murphy is consistent and powerful as ever. Pat Dietz is consistent and brings a lot of intensity to the game.”

Five of the six top singles players, plus Mike Ventimiglia and Chris Zmuda, are all seniors. The team’s experience has added a new target to the Hawks’ list.

“One of our goals is to see how far we can get into states with everybody,” Amato said. “Not only how many we can qualify, but how far they can go.”

Woodland also added a pair of challenging nonconference matches to its schedule. The Hawks will host a rematch with Lewis Mills — the only team to defeat Woodland last season — May 7 and will visit East Catholic on Monday.

“They have a loss on their record, against Lewis Mills, and they’re looking forward to the rematch,” Amato said. “We’re trying to pick up quality competition where we can.”

The Hawks got off on the right foot in their quest for a three-peat. They opened the season with a 7-2 win on Wednesday against Watertown and a 9-0 victory at Sacred Heart on Thursday. The Hawks will seek to make it a 3-0 start Saturday against Crosby.

Amato, the wily coach who led the girls volleyball team to the Class M state finals last fall, loves to use his “one point, one game, one set, one match at a time” adage to navigate his net-based teams. He’s expanded his simple philosophy this spring.

“We want to win more than we lose,” Amato said. “It’s basics. We don’t have to win them all; we just have to win the ones that matter. But our goal is to win them all.”