STAMFORD — Like many of the girls tennis teams in the FCIAC, the Wilton Warriors didn’t have much success against the Darien Blue Wave during the past few seasons.
The Warriors, however, have broken through.
Wilton and Darien played a full-tilt thriller with the Warriors pulling out a 4-3 victory in the CIAC Class L quarterfinals Wednesday at the Solaris Racquet Club in Stamford. It was the third meeting of the spring between the two conference foes, with Darien winning 5-2 during the regular season, and Wilton winning 4-3 in both the FCIAC semifinals and now the state quarters.
“This is huge for Wilton,” Warriors’ junior Izzy Koziol said. “We hadn’t beaten Darien in so long and now we’ve beaten them twice in a row. We’re just really happy to break that curse and keep playing.”
Junior Alexandra Iotzova put the finishing touches on the quarterfinal win when she defeated Darien freshman Cameron Cavanna in a three-setter at No. 3 singles. Fittingly, that match was decided by a tiebreaker, with Iotzova scoring the 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) victory.
Sixth-seeded Wilton (19-3) will now play on the road at No. 2 South Windsor (18-0) in the Class L semifinals at 4 p.m., Thursday. South Windsor defeated Southington 6-1 in the quarterfinals.
FCIAC champion Staples (23-0), the No. 1 seed, has already advanced to the Class L final, having beaten No. 5 Amity 7-0 in their semifinal match on Wednesday.
It will be difficult to match the drama from the quarterfinals which had the players on both teams huddled around the windows overlooking the courts at Solaris.
“The girls battled, every one of them,” Wilton’s first-year head coach Rod-D’Jaly Thoby said. “It was a little weird coming indoors for a match like this, but they kept focused and they came to execute. I’m still shaking from the nerves. The girls were ready and they were amazing.”
Third-seeded Darien (17-3) had another successful campaign come to a close a bit earlier than hoped after the Wave reached the state final last year. Darien had to shake up its lineup with Emily Wiley, it’s No. 1 singles player, sidelined with an injury.
“The season overall was phenomenal,” Darien head coach Anne-Lise Brown said. “I’m super proud of the girls for doing as well as they did. Obviously, if we’d been able to maintain our regular season lineup, who knows what would’ve been different, but everybody really rallied, they played their hearts out and they left it all on the court. That’s all you can really ask of them and they had fun.”
The division was between singles and doubles, as Wilton took all four singles matches and Darien swept the three doubles contests.
Wilton led 2-1 when the first three matches were completed
At No. 1 singles, Koziol defeated Darien sophomore Katie Wiley 6-0, 6-2; and at No. 2, sophomore Emma Caldwell defeated Wave junior Abby Stravato 6-1, 6-0.
“Izzy is just a tremendous athlete, the way she hits the ball,” Thoby said. “When she came off the court she said ‘I didn’t play too well,” even after she won. Emma is just as good. She’s a sophomore and the way she battles is just incredible.”
In the No. 1 doubles match, Darien’s tandem of senior Juilet Homes and junior Elaina Cummiskey defeated Wilton senior Gerri Fox and sophomore Grace Cahill 6-0, 6-2.
Warriors’ freshman Rhea Raghavan then defeated Darien senior Annabelle Mueller 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 at No. 4 singles, giving the Warriors a 3-1 lead.
Darien came back.
In the No. 3 doubles match, Wave senior Quin Wolters and junior Caroline Hojsgaard topped senior Arden Lee and freshman Annie Caldwell 7-5, 6-1; and at No. 2 doubles, Darien sophomores Caroline Homes and Daniela Castellanos defeated seniors Kate Seelert and Mackenzie McCormick 6-3, 6-3
With the match tied 3-3, it came down to the No. 3 singles battle between Iotzova and Cavanna, with Iotzova ending it in a tiebreaker.
“That was really exciting and it was great for her to pull that out,” Koziol said. “That’s a super stressful situation and she played so well.”
“It’s so tough with the pressure that a player feels,” Brown said. “Win or lose there’s a lot of pressure. Cameron has found herself in that situation on more than one occasion this season and she’s just a freshman. It’s great training for the future and she’s been super steady. She’s a great player.”
Brown said she hopes her players, especially the seniors, remember how much success they’ve had with the Blue Wave the past few seasons.
“Celebrate what a great four years they’ve had, the success we’ve had and enjoyed together,” Brown said. “I told them, at the end of the day, I want you to do now is have fun and enjoy this. I want them to look back on this and remember that they had fun.”
“This is my first year and I’ve been in the best seat to watch the best FCIAC matches and Darien is one of those teams. The first match was a little tough for us, but we came back during the semifinals for the FCIACs and now in states and we kept on battling them. We’ve got some momentum going and we needed some people to step up and they did, It was a great win.” — Wilton coach Rod-D’Jaly Thoby