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Article Published June 3, 2019
Hand Girls’ Tennis Beats Lauralton Hall for Class M State Crown, 24-0 Season
John Lecardo, Sports Writer

Last spring, the Hand girls’ tennis team came up one win short of playing in its third-straight state final. So, when the Tigers clawed their way back to the championship match this year, they wanted to make the most of their opportunity to compete on center court. Hand followed through by posting a 6-1 victory versus Lauralton Hall in the Class M State Tournament final last week—a win that put a bow on an undefeated season for the Tigers.

After going 17-0 for the regular season and then earning the SCC three-peat, Hand entered the Class M State Tournament as No. 1 seed. The Tigers had lost in the Class L semifinals last season, but they wouldn’t be denied the chance to vie for a title this time around.

Hand claimed wins versus RHAM (7-0), Avon (6-1), and St. Joseph (7-0) in the first three rounds of the tournament to advance to the championship, where they faced No. 7 seed Lauralton Hall at Amity High School on May 31. In the fourth meeting of the year between the SCC rivals, Hand defeated the Crusaders by the final score of 6-1 to secure the program’s fourth state title and its second in the last three years. The Tigers completed their dream season with a perfect record of 24-0.

“I have never been on a team like this before. Somehow, tennis managed to bring together 13 people who otherwise wouldn’t be that close and become a family,” junior Sam Riordan said. “I can’t emphasize enough how incredible my teammates are. They are 12 of the best humans I have ever met. Our record and titles are a reflection of the countless hours our coach and team put in. I’m proud to be a Tiger.”

Head Coach Kitty Palmer, who also guided Guilford field hockey to its first SCC and state titles last fall, said the 2019 edition of the Hand girls’ tennis team is one of the greatest clubs that she’s ever coached.

“Day in and day out, they were mentally and physically tough,” said Palmer. “They were all just determined to win. It was an amazing season, and nothing compares to this when you look at 24-0 and SCC and state titles.”

The Tigers made it clean sweep on the singles court when they beat Lauralton Hall (19-6) for the Class M crown. Sam Riordan earned a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Skylar Korman in the No. 1 singles match, while sophomore Lindsay Riordan prevailed by that same 6-0, 6-1 final against Claudia Robinson at No. 2 singles

In the No. 3 singles matchup, junior Annie Barrett notched a 6-1, 6-3 win versus the Crusaders’ Chelsea Larke. Sophomore Eileen Chen won a 6-3, 6-4 decision over Anna Farruggio in the No. 4 singles match.

For doubles action, Hand’s No. 1 tandem of junior Anna Lang and freshman Claire Langille defeated Melissa Caiola and Audrey Ulrich by the score of 6-2, 6-1. Lauralton Hall picked up its lone win of the day at No. 2 doubles, where the team of Lauren Dowling and Olivia Golden netted a 2-6, 6-4, 10-7 win against sophomore Paige Van Ostenbridge and freshman Bella Vejar. In the No. 3 doubles duel, Hand’s duo of senior captain Catherine Aranow and freshman Breanna Colonese-DiBello toughed out a 5-7, 6-3, 10-7 victory over Kate Backus and Mary Grace SanFilippo.

With her team playing Lauralton Hall for the fourth time in two months, Lang knew that the Tigers had to bring a maximum effort in the final in order to close out their year with the state championship.

“Claiming another state title is the epitome of a team effort and individual effort, as well,” Lang said. “We knew Lauralton Hall was going to be ready to take us on, so as a team, we agreed that we had to give our matches everything we had. Leaving it all out on the court, we achieved this victory. To finish this season as an undefeated team means that we proved our drive and determination as a team.”

Coach Palmer noted a similar scenario from three years ago, when Hand defeated Lauralton Hall in the SCC semis, but then lost to when Lauralton Hall in the state final. Consequently, Palmer wanted her squad to be ready to go up against the upset-minded Crusaders.

“We knew going into this that Lauralton Hall had gotten better each time we played them this year. I told the girls that with the pressure involved, this would be the toughest one,” Palmer said. “I knew their seniors remembered when we beat them in SCCs and then they beat us in the state final. We had close matches, even though it was 6-1.”

Hand had advanced to the Class M final by winning its first three matches of the tournament on its home court. The top-seeded Tigers recorded a 7-0 shutout versus No. 17 seed RHAM in first-round play on May 25, notched a 6-1 win against No. 8 Avon in the quarterfinals on May 29, and then blanked No. 28 seed St. Joseph by a 7-0 final in the semis on May 30.

“It’s hard to play that many matches in so few days, especially for the singles players, where you alone have to win two out of three sets,” said Palmer. “I give credit to all of the participants because of that, and it’s not easy on any team. This whole tournament was a fight, and I’m proud of them. It was a dream season.”

Hand’s roster additionally features sophomore Eliza Beccia, along with freshmen Callan Mascia and Ella Scarice.

A few days after winning the state title, Hand was represented by several athletes at the State Championship when the meet got underway at Conard High School on June 1. In the singles draw, Samantha Riordan earned the No. 9 seed and won her first two matches by defeating Abigail Gorra of Shepaug Valley (8-1) and Kayla Dellolacono from East Hampton (8-1) to advance to the third round.

Lindsay Riordan earned an 8-1 win versus Julia Dzinski of Holy Cross in her opening-round match and then defeated Francesca Luzzi of Litchfield by an 8-4 score in the first round. Riordan took an 8-4 loss against 7th-seeded Alexandra D’Aquino from Weston in a second-round contest.

In the doubles tournament, Hand’s 3rd-seeded team of Lang and Langille reached the third round by winning its first two matches. In the first round, Lang and Langille posted an 8-1 victory against Morgan Mancuso and Veronica Zimmer of Guilford. They followed that up with an 8-1 win over Katelyn Heslin and Nicole Plavec from St. Joseph in the second round.

Vejar and Van Ostenbridge also advanced to the third round for Hand. Vejar and Van Ostenbridge claimed an 8-3 victory versus Eesha Acharya and Gabrielle McGovern in opening-round action, won their first-round match by default, and then posted an 8-3 win against Claire Lamb and Laurel Winslow of Barlow in a second-round contest.

From the Sidelines

During the regular season, the Hand girls’ tennis team earned two wins versus Lauralton Hall (5-2 and 6-1), Guilford (7-0 and 7-0), Sacred Heart Academy (7-0 and 7-0), and Amity (6-1 and 4-3) to go with one victory apiece against Sheehan (7-0), Hamden (7-0), Branford (7-0), Shelton (4-0), Foran (6-1), Mercy (7-0), Cheshire (7-0), North Haven (6-1), and Law (7-0).

In the SCC Tournament, Hand defeated Foran (7-0), Lauralton Hall (6-1), and Amity (5-2) to take the title for the third year in a row.

The Tigers had previously won Class M state titles in 2011 (5-2 versus Avon), 2012 (7-0 over East Lyme), and 2017 (5-2 against Guilford).

Hand also reached the Class M state final in 2001, 2008, and 2016.