WESTBROOK – As Thursday afternoon wore on, the crowd assembled at Westbrook High for the Class M girls tennis final slowly drifted from the near to the far end of the complex as it became apparent where this round between rivals Hand and Guilford would eventually be decided.
With all the other matches complete, the second-seeded Tigers needed either their second or third doubles team to prevail to complete an undefeated season.
But the pesky No. 12 Indians, whom Hand had already beaten twice this spring, led both matches midway through their respective third and deciding sets.
In the end, Hand’s third doubles team of juniors Nell Karas and Nicki Goldfeder won their final four games to clinch the title. Seniors Grace Squitiero and Renee Tracy followed suit a couple of minutes later to make the final 5-2 and give Hand its third CIAC girls tennis crown. The Tigers previously won in 2011 and 2012.
“We stress ourselves out every match, so it wasn’t that different,” Goldfeder said.
Karas added: “We knew two matches were close and we were nervous. We were up 4-1 and lost the first set, but we just had to do everything we were taught and get the ball in.”
It was unofficially the 29th straight win for Hand (22-0) over rival Guilford dating back to 2006, which includes four in the SCC Tournament and now three in CIAC play.
But this may have been the toughest. Guilford gave Hand, perhaps, its stiffest regular season test when it lost 4-3 on April 27, and came very close indeed to grabbing its first CIAC girls tennis championship after losing in the final in 2015.
“I knew they would push us, those were the closest matches we had all year (with Guilford),” Hand coach Kitty Palmer said. “When this much is at stake, you knew they would fight to the last point, but our girls came through. It’s been an amazing season, something you dream about.”
As it did in the first regular season meeting, Guilford won at No. 1 and 2 singles with Claire Dinauer and Faren Roth grabbing straight-set victories.
Ellie Wienstein and Annie Barrett prevailed easily for Hand to make it 2-2 in singles play. Anna Lang and Sam Riordan held off a late challenge from Charlotte Babbin and Molly Babbin by winning a second-set tiebreaker in first doubles, meaning the Tigers needed one of the final two matches to prevail.
It got both, but not before more than a couple anxious moments, as both the Tigers’ second and third doubles trailed 3-2 in the third set.
“We’ve won at those positions before and there was no reason to think we couldn’t do it again,” Guilford coach Chris Marra said. “They just made a couple of big shots when they needed them. We have a running joke about how many times we lose 4-3 to them, so hopefully sometime soon we’ll beat them 4-3 or better. I couldn’t ask for more out of our team.”
Guilford (18-8) finished with eight losses, but three were to Amity, three to Hand and one came against Class LL powerhouse Glastonbury, as the Indians will look to finally get over that Hand hump in 2018.
Palmer has a unique view on the rivalry, as she will embark on her 36th season at the helm of the Guilford field hockey program in the fall. In 2016, Palmer led the Indians to the Class M final (beating Hand to get there), falling to New Canaan.
“There are no field hockey players on Guilford’s team thankfully,” Palmer said. “If we can’t win, I’d want Guilford to win. Someday they’re going to get us, but I’m just glad it wasn’t today.”
With the team competition complete, individual play begins Saturday in West Hartford (at Conard for singles and Hall for doubles).
HAND 5, GUILFORD 2
Singles: Clare Dinaeur (G) def. Ankita Roychoudhury 6-1, 6-4; Faren Roth (G) def. Lee Jiaen 6-4, 6-2; Ellie Weinstein (H) def. Acadia Hall 6-1, 6-1; Annie Barrett (H) def. Emma Rand 6-0, 6-1.
Doubles: Anna Lang-Sam Riordan (H) def. Molly Babbin-Charlotte Babbin 6-1, 7-6 (4); Renee Tracy-Grace Squitiero (H) def. Sam Stoffler-Emily Dietzko 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-4; Nicki Goldfeder-Nell Karas (H) def. Annabelle Wang-Elaina Griffiths 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.
Team records: Guilford 18-8; Hand 22-0.