Westbrook Takes 4-3 Loss to Old Lyme in State Final
When the senior captains on the Westbrook girls’ tennis team were juniors, Head Coach Paula Fitzgerald asked them to come up with some words that would help define the Knights’ program. Two of those words were spirit and conquer. With a bevy of seniors leading the way, Westbrook showed tremendous competitive spirit and conquered its way to a spot in the Class S state final this spring.
On the heels of a 15-win regular season, Westbrook won its first three matches in the Class S State Tournament to advance to the championship match. The Knights went up against an undefeated Old Lyme team and gave the Wildcats a run for their money in taking a 4-3 defeat on June 4. Westbrook finished the year with a record of 18-3.
Returning everyone from last year’s club who had made it to the state semis, Coach Fitzgerald and her athletes wanted to improve on that performance in 2022. The Knights were highly motivated all season and ready to compete for the Class S title when they took on Old Lyme.
“Last year, they lost in the semis. No one on our team graduated, so of course you have to set your goals to the next level. They wanted to get to the finals and have a shot,” Coach Fitzgerald said. “This was a very business-like group. They had fun, and they knew what they wanted to do. They have been preparing this for two years now. They were ready to play.”
No. 3 seed Westbrook faced off with top-seeded Old Lyme in the Class S State Tournament final at Wesleyan University. Senior captain Julia Farnoli claimed a 6-2, 6-2 victory in the No. 1 singles match, while freshman Megan Bache won a 6-3, 6-3 decision at No. 3 singles for the Knights. Westbrook’s No. 3 doubles pairing of senior captain Xan Zanzalari and junior Adriana Stranieri notched a three-set victory by the score of 1-6, 6-4, 6-4. Old Lyme earned wins at No. 2 and 4 singles, as well as No. 1 and 2 doubles to get the 4-3 victory and win its second-straight state title.
Between the Westbrook and Old Lyme’s two regular-season matches—both of which the Wildcats won 6-1—and the Shoreline Conference’s individual tournaments, the Class S final marked the third time that many of the athletes from both teams played against each other this year. Coach Fitzgerald knew that it would be a battle and was proud of the Knights for giving it everything they had.
“For some players, this was their third time playing each other. We knew it was going to be a tough battle for us to find four points. We knew we had a very narrow window if we were going to pull it off,” said Fitzgerald. “I thought we played great. To go from 1-6 to 3-4 in the biggest match of the season, they have to be proud of themselves.”
Westbrook’s road to the state championship began with a 6-0 home victory over No. 14 seed Lyman Hall in the first round on May 31. Farnoli, senior captain Gianni Salisbury, and Bache all recorded straight-sets shutouts at the top three singles spots. Junior Ava Ciarcia claimed a 6-0, 6-1 win in the No. 4 singles match. The team of senior captain Bree Koplas and junior Delaney Betancourt won the No. 1 doubles match 6-0, 6-0; senior Jami Sacco and sophomore Olivia Palumbo posted a 6-1, 6-0 victory at No. 2 doubles; and Zanzalari and Stranieri earned a 6-0, 6-1 win at No. 3 doubles.
The Knights continued their run by earning a 6-1 win versus No. 6 Shepaug Valley in a quarterfinal home match on June 2. Farnoli (6-2, 6-0), Salisbury (6-2, 7-6), and Bache (6-0, 6-1) were triumphant in singles action. Westbrook swept doubles play behind victories from the teams of Koplas and Betancourt (6-2, 6-2), Palumbo and Sacco (6-0, 6-1), and Zanzalari and Stranieri (6-7, 6-4, 10-4).
Westbrook went on to get a 6-1 win against No. 2 seed Holy Cross in a Class S semifinal matchup at the Tennis Club of Trumbull on June 3. Farnoli (6-2, 6-2), Bache (6-0, 6-0), and Ciarcia (6-3, 6-1) won their singles contests. Westbrook delivered another sweep on the doubles courts as the tandems of Koplas-Betancourt (6-1, 6-4), Sacco-Palumbo (6-1, 6-2), and Zanzalari-Stranieri (6-3, 6-0) all came out on the winning side in what Coach Fitzgerald called the Knights “best match of the entire season.”
Experience and leadership proved two critical factors in Westbrook’s state tourney run. That leadership starts with the Knights’ senior captains, Farnoli, Koplas, Salisbury, and Zanzalari. With no seniors on last year’s team, Coach Fitzgerald told those four athletes that they were going to be leaders in the program for the next two seasons. Fitzgerald said the captains embraced that aspect and were determined to lead Westbrook to an exceptional campaign.
“They came back as juniors, and we knew we wouldn’t have any seniors. We met at the beginning of the year and said, ‘Alright gang, this is your team for the next two years.’ It’s in your hands. It’s a two-year project,” Fitzgerald said. “They took ownership right away. In the back of their heads, they had a mission.”
Westbrook will be graduating seven seniors from this year’s team. Coach Fitzgerald said that every senior played a big role in creating a family atmosphere among the Knights on their way to attaining state runner-up honors. Now, as the younger players take on bigger roles, Fitzgerald is looking for the returning athletes to follow in the seniors’ footsteps and continue building the solid foundation of the Westbrook girls’ tennis program.
“We had a very senior-heavy team this year. When you are behind a great group of seniors and they move on, it’s important that you teach the younger players how to be a part of this family and what it means,” said Fitzgerald.
“That family atmosphere is a big plus on this team,” Fitzgerald continued. “The juniors who will lead this team next year will continue that.”
The Westbrook girls’ tennis team’s roster features senior captains Julia Farnoli, Gabriella Koplas, Gianni Salisbury, and Xan Zanzalari; seniors Marlee Archer, Jami Sacco, and Sadie Susi; juniors Delaney Belcourt, Ava Ciarcia, Caroline Dias, Myan Nguyen, Gabriela Spash, and Adriana Stranieri; sophomores Emile Downie and Olivia Palumbo; and freshman Megan Bache.