Greenwich High girls tennis primed for FCIAC, CIAC playoff runs

Greenwich High School senior tri-captain Julia Hyland returns a serve during Monday’s practice. — Paul Silverfarb photo

Greenwich High School senior tri-captain Julia Hyland returns a serve during Monday’s practice. — Paul Silverfarb photo

Still with a bitter taste in their mouth from last year’s Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference class L loss to rival New Canaan High School, the veteran Greenwich High School girls tennis team will be looking to defend its Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship, as well as reclaim the state championship.

“I think the potential is there for us to go all the way,” Greenwich High School head coach Betsy Underhill said. “I am hoping we can recapture our FCIAC title. New Canaan will be up there again, Darien is going to be a really good team and there will be other ones that will stand out. All we can do is go out there and play our beat every time. If we can do that, I think we definitely have the capabilities of doing what we did last year.”

Last year, Big Red dominated the competition throughout most of the season. In the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship match, Greenwich was able to beat rival New Canaan High School for the conference championship.

In the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference class L meet, both schools met up in the championship match. Big Red took care of Masuk in the opening round of the class L tourney 7-0, Staples High School 6-1 in the quarterfinals and Newtown High School 4-3 in the semis. However, in the championship match, the Rams were able to exact revenge on the Cards and come away with the 4-3 victory.

With the loss to New Canaan, Greenwich also lost Claudia Kesela, Danielle Cepelewicz and Audrey Villemure to graduation.

With the losses to those three, Greenwich this year will have all new doubles pairings, as well as all but one singles tennis player moving around the lineup. Despite the roster changes, Underhill still has a plethora of talent back from last year’s starting lineup.

“Right now it’s a little new around here,” Underhill said. “I am excited because I think the pairings are good and I think it’s going to work. We just need to work out some kinks and need to start feeling confident in our match-ups and in our new positions. Once that happens, we can calm down and play some good tennis.”

The girls tennis team will be led by seniors Jenn Deluca, Sam Stone and Julia Hyland.

“All my captains have been on the team since they were a freshmen and are very familiar with the program,” Underhill said. “I think they are taking hold of the team and have been excellent leaders and role models. It seems like yesterday that they came here as freshmen that were shy and not sure what was going on. To see them in a very confident role and being leaders of the team is exciting.”

Deluca will be the team’s lone athlete returning to her spot from last year and will occupy the No. 1 singles position.

GHS senior tri-captain Sam Stone returns the serve from her teammate during Monday’s practice at Greenwich High School.  — Paul Silverfarb photo

GHS senior tri-captain Sam Stone returns the serve from her teammate during Monday’s practice at Greenwich High School. — Paul Silverfarb photo

“Jenn has always been a terrific player and I think they stress of getting into college has really calmed her down now that it’s behind her,” Underhill said. “She’s a fabulous player and her strokes are amazing. Her weakness is her competitive side that sometimes gets to her in different situations. We worked hard on that and I’ve seen her grow in that respect. If we can keep that going throughout the year, I will be one of the happiest coaches ever. She has the talent and is a phenomenal tennis play, but plays in a lot of tough matches throughout the year and she can’t get upset if she loses.”

Fellow captain Stone has moved from the No. 3 singles position and will be competing at No. 2 for her senior year, taking the spot that Kesela had last year.

“She’s very happy there,” Underhill said. “Her goal is to win every match and last year she did that. This year it will be a little tougher at No. 2, but it’s still the same goal for her. She works very hard at getting better and she obviously loves the game of tennis. She loves the team.”

Playing No. 3 singles for Big Red this year will be a familiar name in the doubles scene. Anna Daccache played No. 3 doubles for Greenwich last year, teaming up with Mathilde Van Tulder.

“She was excellent at No. 3 doubles last year with Mathilde, but this year she expressed an interest in singles, knowing that we lost two singles spots to graduation,” Underhill said. “She works hard on her singles during the offseason, knowing that there would be spots open. I think her goal is to slowly move up in singles. She’s already beaten a few singles players on our team and watching her, I think she’s an excellent No. 3 singles player. I love the way she moves her feet and how she fights for every single ball. I think she’s someone to watch.”

Hannah Kratky will be at No. 4 singles for Big Red this year.

Although Underhill said that Kratky expressed interest in competing at doubles, the head coach believes that Kratky is the team’s best player for the No. 4 singles spot.

“I played her in both doubles and singles against different players and this is what I think is what is best for the team,” Underhill said. “She’s a steady player, moves the ball around, likes to come to the net. She’s a paddle tennis player and that background helps in her coming to the net in singles. I think she’ll do very well for us.”

Leading the way at No. 1 doubles will be captain Hyland and she will be joined by another Julia, Julia Ackerman, who played No. 1 doubles with Villemure last year. For Underhill, the challenge was to match up Ackerman with another tennis athlete that has a similar game.

“I rotated people around, but I feel like that Julia Hyland was the best partner for Julia Ackerman,” Underhill said. “Julia Hyland hits somewhat like Audrey did and also has a strong serve and a strong forehand. I matched those two and so far they’ve beaten everybody on our team. It’s not easy replacing partners. It doesn’t come naturally overnight. It’s a work in progress. They’re going to be great together.”

With the loss of Daccache to singles, Van Tulder will be moving up to No. 2 double and will team up with junior Lizzie Griffin, who moved up from junior varsity last year.

“Lizzie did really well in tryouts and was impressive,” Underhill said. “She’s aggressive, feisty, never gives up and her feet are constantly moving. I felt like that style was very similar to what Anna had and what Mathilde is used to. I feel like Lizzie is another Anna and the two are doing well at No. 2 doubles.”

Greenwich’s Liza Johnson was slated to be the team’s No. 5 singles player, but that has changed recently.

Although Underhill likes her at that No. 5 slot, the head coach has decided to play Johnson at No. 3 doubles with Mary Cecio.

So far this season, Greenwich High has been solid. Against Darien High School, Big Red came away with the hard-fought 4-3 victory. A day later against Westhill High School, the Lady Cardinals finished with the 6-1 victory.

However on Tuesday, Greenwich fell to rival New Canaan, 4-3. Despite the loss, Underhill is still excited about her team.

“I am thrilled with the way the season is looking,” Underhill said. “The new girls that have just come in, I feel like they are going to grow by playing with the rest of the girls on the team.”

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