Preseason tennis scrimmages are normally used to determine which players will fill starting roles and as a barometer for what teams need to improve upon before the regular season.
In some instances, the scrimmages pit long-standing rivals and carry more significance for coaches and players. Put Tuesday’s Amity-Hopkins boys tennis scrimmage, scheduled for 4:15 p.m. at Hopkins, under that category.
It’s a unique scrimmage for a couple of reasons. First, Amity is a CIAC school in the SCC, while Hopkins is a prep school that plays out of the Fairchester League. Second, the schools are in close proximity to each other: Hopkins in New Haven and Amity in Woodbridge.
Third, both schools are normally title contenders each year.
“Some of our players used to live in Woodbridge. It’s a natural rivalry because of the proximity,” former Hopkins coach Bill Ewen said. “The competition has always been spirited, the matches are traditionally close. Both teams and their coaches use it as a barometer to see how their teams will hold up in a match.”
Said Amity coach Chris Raffone: “It is a great indicator how we would do against the state’s best. Hopkins is as good as anyone we will face in the Class LL division or the SCC.”
The two tennis programs have a long history. Ewen took over the varsity program at Hopkins in 1969. Amity was already a regular-season opponent on the Hilltoppers’ schedule.
Ewen, who stepped down from the varsity program following the 2012 season and is now the junior varsity coach, said the two teams didn’t play every single year due to weather postponements. The scrimmage was even dropped for several years in the 1990s once Hopkins joined the Fairchester League. The rivalry resumed a decade ago and has been played ever since in early April.
“It’s a very valuable early-season encounter,” Ewen said. “The fact that it is a scrimmage takes a little bit of pressure off. Sometimes we would play in 40-degree temperatures with 20 mile-per-hour winds.”
Bryan Adinolfi is in his first year coaching at Hopkins.
“Camaraderie is one of my favorite things,” Adinolfi said. “I want to give the Hopkins’ kids the same experience I had in high school. It wasn’t necessarily always about winning. Sometimes losing creates a stronger bond (between teammates).”
Exactly two decades ago, Adinolfi was a freshman on the Hamden High tennis team. One of his teammates? None other than Chris Raffone.
The two went on to play in college (Raffone at Central Connecticut State, Adinolfi at UConn) and still work in tennis at area clubs. They have remained best friends throughout the last 20 years — and now are on opposite ends of this rivalry.
“The friendships you build is more important than any match you play because in the end, friendships last a lifetime,” Raffone said. “We both went into coaching high school tennis because of the experience we had on our own high school teams.”
And while tennis is renowned as an individual sport, how far these two teams goes this year will be based on how deep each is. Raffone feels the Spartans can compete and win their first Class LL state championship. Adinolfi’s Hilltoppers will be a team to beat in the New England Class B division.
“The sport may be a bunch of individuals, but I like to frame it as every single position counts as team points,” Adinolfi said.
And the rivalry has produced many good players, like Lou Gloria and Ben Zuckerberg at Amity and Nolan Paige and Brian Astrachan at Hopkins. Now it falls to the current leaders of each team: Jason Seidman for Amity, the reigning Class LL individual state champion, and Sayer Paige from Hopkins. Both juniors are returning two-time Register All-Area selections.
“Playing Sayer, a really good friend of mine, it will help me mentally prepare for the upcoming season,” Seidman said. “If we are able to get a win off of them, it will give us a confidence boost for the rest of the season and better prepare us for the tougher schools coming up on our schedule.”
So will Amity be able to beat out defending champion Hand for the SCC crown? Will Hopkins top Brunswick and others for the Fairchester League title?
Today’s match may be a good barometer in deciding each of those questions — and build some more camaraderie between these two natural tennis rivals.