BRISTOL - The No. 3-seeded St. Paul girls tennis team got its first doubles sweep of the season on Monday afternoon at Peck Park on its way to a 6-1 win over No. 6-ranked Holy Cross in the quarterfinal round of the NVL team tournament.
“It was awesome to watch the girls all play well today [and] give it their all,” St. Paul coach Beth Hines said. “We beat Holy Cross 4-3 the last time we played so winning 6-1 today is awesome. Just goes to show you all the hard work we’ve but in since we played them last: a lot of focus on our doubles teams [and] a lot of strategic playing. Doubles is all about strategy.”
The Falcons’ No. 1 pairing of Mariah Fiscella and Caroline Badal were the first doubles team to finish their match, having beaten Holy Cross’ Julia Flynn and Jessica Solnik 8-4. It was by no means an easy match for Fiscella and Badal, who had to battle their own mistakes - such as hitting the ball directly to the net player - in addition to their opponents and the blustery wind.
“You can’t hit right to the net,” said Hines, who had to visit Fiscella and Badal between games to talk strategy. “You’re going to get beat that way. It’s tough because the wind is playing a factor but you need to go cross-court. You’re just not going to be successful continuing to go to the net person unless they’re not very good.”
Lizzie Etter and Ximena Varela-Marin claimed the point at No. 2 doubles with another 8-4 victory, while No. 3 duo Lyndsey Martin and Lydia Feng completed the doubles sweep with yet another 8-4 win.
While picking up the first sweep of doubles of the season, the Falcons only really needed one win from doubles after earning three on the singles side.
“My singles have been phenomenal this year,” Hines said. “They work hard in the offseason. They work hard all year round.”
St. Paul’s No. 1 singles player, Natasha Kempes, made quick work of the Crusaders’ Elana Tormo, overpowering her to earn an 8-2 win to keep her undefeated season alive. On the next court over, Victoria Kilbourne won at No. 2 singles by a score of 8-3, also maintaining a zero in her 2017 record’s loss column. At No. 3 singles, Katie Pauloz kept her loss total for the season at just one, defeating Holy Cross’ Clare Sullivan 8-2.
“It felt really good. I think our team’s doing really well together,” Kilbourne said. “We’re working really hard, with practices and everything. I think we’ve got a really good team.”
St. Paul’s only loss of the match came at No. 4 singles. The Falcons’ Sophia Penisse led 6-3 at one point but the Crusaders’ Julia Dzinski fought back to win five straight games to win the match 8-6.
Despite being surrounded by trees, the players on both sides had to contend with the wind on Monday, as it oscillated back and forth between a breeze and gusts, often buffeting the ball off its intended path. But the Falcons were able to overcome that hurdle and according to Hines, that’s what she prepares them to do.
“We talk about [mental toughness] all the time, too, and it was one of the things we talked about today,” Hines said. “It’s a battle of the elements and sometimes it’s not about who’s physically stronger, it’s about who’s more mentally tough. A lot of the time, we focus on mental toughness through the year. We talk about coming back from being behind. We do a lot of yoga in the offseason so the girls stay focused and in the present, in the match, one point at a time.”
For Kilbourne, the wind actually played a bit in her favor, since her game relies so much on putting different spin on the ball.
“I think that’s an advantage, especially with the slice, because of the way the wind is going,” she said. “It just stops the ball or keeps it going, so that’s really helpful.”
With the win, the Falcons advance to the semifinals of the NVL tournament and will face the winner of No. 2-ranked Naugatuck and No. 7-seeded Wolcott, which will be played on Tuesday afternoon. If the Greyhounds win, St. Paul will play on the road on Wednesday and if the Eagles win, the Falcons will host on Wednesday.
Either way, Kilbourne and the Falcons are confident in the team going forward.
“We’re really excited,” she said. “We’re hoping to do well. I think it’s going to be good. We have a good shot this year.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org