TRUMBULL >> The state girls tennis team championship finals were scheduled to be played on Thursday. So Lauralton Hall had scheduled its team banquet for that night well in advance.
But rain earlier this week forced the finals to be moved back to Friday afternoon. The banquet still went on as scheduled for the Crusaders.
“I have to tell you, it was inspirational,” Lauralton Hall coach Maureen Ferguson said. “The girls all talk about each other. I cry at every speech and I cry when I have to give the speech. These kids become our kids for three months.”
Ferguson didn’t notice any nerves in her players on Friday. The third-seeded Crusaders, they just took care of business, beating No. 8 Hand 5-2 in an All-Southern Connecticut Conference final at The Tennis Club of Trumbull.
It was the second straight M championship for the Crusaders (21-2), who beat Guilford, another SCC school, in last year’s final.
“I think a lot of people expected us to come out big again and defending is always harder,” said No. 1 singles player Shelby Vertula, who will play at Fairfield University next season. “The first time, there is no pressure. The second time, it’s more pressure to keep it going,”
Hand coach Kitty Palmer knows plenty about winning back-to-back titles: Hand accomplished it in 2011-12 in Class M.
“It’s so hard, a grueling week,” Palmer said. “Every day you have to play, especially singles players who have to gut it out every single day with no rest.”
One of Lauralton’s two losses came last week to Hand, 4-3 in the SCC tournament semifinals. The Crusaders were trying to defend that title as well.
“They are playing their best tennis of the entire season this week,” Ferguson said. “The (semifinal) win against Barlow (Thursday), that was the best tennis they’ve played.”
Said Vertula: “I had a feeling we would see them (Hand) again. It was a tough loss for us, really rough. All of the seniors were really upset. I probably even cried a little bit. We beat them during the regular season, so we didn’t go there thinking we would lose, so when we did lose, it was a shock.”
Lauralton’s No. 1 doubles team of Tara Boyd and Michaela O’Donnell has yet to lose this season. The duo clinched the deciding point on Friday in straight sets (6-4, 6-4).
“She is like my sister, we are so close,” Boyd said about O’Donnell. “We know each other’s game, we know each other’s personality, we know how to cheer each other up and calm each other down. People say it’s hard to clinch a state title two years in a row, but we came out here and did it.”
Lauralton won all four singles matches to put the Tigers (18-5) in a hole they couldn’t get out of. But for the SCC and Class M state tournament finalists, it was a very good season.
“We exceeded what I figured at the beginning of the season. Our five seniors have done one heckuva job for us and I’m glad we got to this point but unfortunately, Lauralton Hall played better so they deserve it,” Palmer said.
The State Open individual tournament gets underway today. For Lauralton Hall, it might be tough to exceed the high of claiming back-to-back titles.
“To me this is better than the Open,” Vertula said. “It’s not an individual sport to me. I wanted the win for all of us. I was more excited watching their match (No. 1 doubles) then when I won my match, I wanted to get that team win so badly.”
Class M championship
Lauralton Hall 5, Hand 2
Singles: Shelby Vertula (LH) def. Ankita Roychoudhury 6-3, 6-3; Juliana Gonzalez (LH) def. Lee Jiaen 6-0, 6-2; Catie Lynch (LH) def. Ellie Weinstein 6-1, 3-6, 6-3; Lily DiDomenico (LH) def. Olivia Hiller 2-6, 7-6, 7-6.
Doubles: Tara Boyd-Michaela O’Donnell (LH) def. Alicia Impergamo-Ryann Cornello 6-4, 6-4; Sheila Flaherty-Sabrina Colonese DiBello (H) def. Erin O’Connell-Skylar Kormen 7-6, 6-4; Grace Squitiero-Renee Tracy (H) def. Maddie Peloso-Kristen Dowling 6-1, 7-6.
Records: H 18-5; LH 21-2.