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Article Published July 14, 2019
Hand Girls’ Tennis Achieved Perfect Season This Spring
John Lecardo, Sports Writer

Even with a smaller roster and several athletes who were new to the starting lineup, the Hand girls’ tennis team put together a dream season during the spring of 2019. The Tigers finished with a record of 24-0 in a campaign that saw the squad claim SCC and state championships.

After going 17-0 for the regular season, Hand won its third-straight conference crown by defeating Foran (7-0) Lauralton Hall (6-1), and Amity (5-2) in the SCC Tournament. Head Coach Kitty Palmer’s club then entered the Class M State Tournament as the No. 1 seed. The Tigers had lost in the Class L semifinals last season, but were determined to take home the title in this year’s Class M draw.

Hand claimed wins versus RHAM (7-0), Avon (6-1), and St. Joseph (7-0) in the first three rounds of the state tourney 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 conference 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, putting a bow on the team’s 24-0 campaign.

Coach Palmer said that the Tigers’ success stemmed from a combination of experienced veterans and underclass athletes who displayed nerves of steel during their first go-round at the varsity level.

“We had five freshmen and a sophomore join the team in March, so you never know how they will react within the lineup, but it was certainly great to see the new girls that played in USTA Nationals gain enough experience from that, because they started in the lineup and didn’t appear nervous,” said Palmer. “I was very pleased with the newcomers in the lineup, and they helped make the difference. The returning girls stepped up, as well.”

Catherine Aranow was the only senior on Hand’s roster and served as the team’s lone captain this season. A No. 3 doubles player, Aranow made a seamless transition into her leadership role and did a great job of guiding the Tigers all year long.

“Catherine played four years for us, but this year was the first season where she played in every match,” Coach Palmer said. “I was worried at the beginning of the year, because she had no senior classmates on the team, but Catherine took to the team and was a great leader. She stepped up right from day one and led our pre-match huddle. I was impressed by her, and her leadership was a huge difference for us.”

Junior Sam Riordan played the No. 1 singles position for Hand, while her sister, sophomore Lindsay Riordan, held things down at the No. 2 spot. Junior Annie Barrett played No. 3 singles with sophomore Eileen Chen competing out of the No. 4 slot.

On the doubles court, the Tigers’ No. 1 team featured junior Anna Lang and freshman Claire Langille, their No. 2 pairing was sophomore Paige Van Ostenbridge and freshman Bella Vejar, while Aranow and freshman Breanna Colonese-DiBello played No. 3 doubles.

Sam Riordan earned All-SCC honors and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the SCC Tournament this year. Joining her on the All-SCC Team were Lindsay Riordan, along with the doubles team of Lang and Langille. Sam Riordan, Lang and Langille, and the tandem of Van Ostenbridge and Vejar also solidified spots on the All-State Team for the Tigers.

Coach Palmer said that Hand showed great poise while competing on the biggest stages this season. This was as evident as ever when the Tigers went up against the best squads that the SCC had to offer.

“Our biggest win was the SCC finals against Amity, because the match was closer than the score indicates,” said Palmer. “For our No. 2 doubles team to lose the first set, then be down 4-1 in the second and come back to win was a huge victory. Annie Barrett also won her match. She’s been so great for us, and the team knows how important she is to us. Lindsay Riordan also clinched the final for us. All of our Amity matches were great, and we also had a very close match against Lauralton Hall in the state final.”

The Tigers accomplished a lot with just 13 people on the roster, making their achievements even more significant in Coach Palmer’s eyes. As her team looks ahead to defending both titles next spring, Palmer knows that the loss of Aranow will be a big one, but she’s also eager to see how everyone else will do when they come back with another year of experience under their belts.

“Catherine was an x-factor for us, and I’m hoping the juniors saw how she led, and I’m sure they will also be great role models,” Palmer said. “It was great with a small team, because they got to know each other very well. We are losing one player, but we have three or four coming in, so we should have more depth. I hope they carry on next year and have the success they deserve.”

Sophomore Eliza Beccia and freshmen Callan Mascia and Ella Scarice were the other athletes on Hand’s roster this season.

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).

The Tigers had previously won Class M state titles in 2011 (with a 5-2 victory 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.