MILFORD >> It seemed only fitting the Lauralton Hall girls tennis team would put together a dominant victory at Eisenhower Park on Friday.
That’s been the story for the Crusaders pretty much all season.
Top-seeded Lauralton Hall put the finishing touches on a perfect campaign — an unblemished 24-0 mark — with a 6-1 win over No. 19 Guilford in the Class M state championship. The win clinched the program’s first state title.
Sure, the Crusaders returned some talent heading into this year. But how they would fare making a move from the Southwest Conference to the ultra-competitive Southern Connecticut Conference was a legitimate question.
“We knew we’d be OK in the SCC, but we never imagined this,” head coach Maureen Ferguson said. “Did I ever think this would happen? I don’t think a coach could ever dream of being 24-0 in a season. That’s a really hard accomplishment. But they didn’t take a day off all season. Not one day because they wanted practice, they wanted to work hard, they wanted this.”
Lauralton Hall made an immediate impression on the SCC, winning the conference title in its first season. The Crusaders followed up with an even more memorable victory on Friday.
“People didn’t know what we were about,” senior Madison Kustom said. “We had to prove ourselves and we did a good job of that.”
We worked so hard for this,” teammate Kara Duggan added. “This sums up what we’ve been trying to do. We’re so proud of each other.”
The Crusaders had a good mix of talent, depth and experience. The x-factor was their overpowering group of doubles teams. Lauralton Hall won 71 of its 72 doubles matches this year. And aside from edging a very tough squad in Amity 4-3, twice, opponents were simply overmatched. The Crusaders dropped just one match against their four state tournament opponents.
Two of Lauralton Hall’s doubles teams didn’t drop a set on Friday. Top singles player Shelby Vertula coasted to a 6-0, 6-1 win over Emily Etter and No. 2 singles Juliana Gonzalez defeated Claire Dinauer 6-0, 6-2 to highlight the victory.
Former head coach Marty Antisdale watched as the Crusaders polish off their impressive season with a state title. He coached the Crusaders for 18 seasons before Ferguson took over two years ago.
“Unbelievable,” he said of the run. “It’s the combination of everything. One of those years, where everything falls into place. I had some of these kids. It’s nice to see them grow and develop, and see how well they’re playing”
As for Guilford, the Indians appear to have set the foundation for a bright future. Head coach Chris Marra pointed out, Guilford starts four freshmen and a sophomore, and held their own facing a tough, competitive schedule that helped the program reach the state final.
But it was Lauralton Hall’s day.
“They are solid all the way up and down,” Marra said. “They have great depth and great doubles teams. They’re an experienced, strong team and it shows. That’s what every team runs into when they play them.”
Lauralton Hall 6, Guilford 1
(At Eisenhower Park, Milford)
1st Singles: Shelby Vertula(LH) def Emily Etter(GH) 6-0, 6-1 2nd Singles: Juluana Gonzalez(LH) def Claire Dinauer(GH) 6-0, 6-2; 3rd Singles: Faren Roth(GH) def Margaret Landry(LH) 6-0, 6-3; 4th singles; Caitlin Lynch(LH) def Charlotte Babbin(GH) 6-1, 6-4 1st Doubles: Tara Boyd/ Michaela O’Donnell(LH) def Genevieve Wilson/Maddie Montenegro (GH) 6-0, 6-0; 2nd Doubles: Megan Hurley/ Allison Devine(LH) def Sam Stofflet/Molly Babbin(GH) 6-3, 2-6, 6-0; 3rd Doubles: Madison Kustom/Kara Duggan(LH) def Kate Dinauer/Ritikia Maknijani(LH) 6-0, 6-0