Westbrook Girls’ Tennis Puts Together Outstanding Campaign
The Westbrook girls’ tennis team accomplished a lot on its way to an outstanding 2022 season that saw Knights make it all the way to the Class S state final. After featuring no seniors on last year’s team, Westbrook rose to new heights through the guidance of several veterans who led the club on a memorable postseason run.
Westbrook finished with an overall record of 18-3 this spring. The only team that the Knights lost to all year was Old Lyme, who edged out Westbrook by a 4-3 score in the championship match of the Class S State Tournament.
Head Coach Paula Fitzgerald had a good sense of what Westbrook’s lineup was going to look like with the return of seven seniors, four of which led the team as its captains. Julia Farnoli, Gianna Salisbury, Bree Koplas, and Xan Zanzalari all returned to the role after serving as junior captains last year. The senior captain quartet had major aspirations for the Knights heading into the 2022 campaign.
“Two years ago, we had no seniors on the team. We knew this would be a two-year journey in a way,” Coach Fitzgerald said. “I know the goals they set were super high, and that’s tough when you try to win everything.”
With big-time goals in mind, Westbrook endured an early setback when the team took a 6-1 defeat against Old Lyme in its second match of the year. The loss hampered Westbrook’s chances of winning the Shoreline Conference title, but Coach Fitzgerald didn’t want the Knights to get too far ahead of themselves. Instead, Westbrook’s athletes refocused and dialed back in by approaching the season on a match-by-match basis. Fitzgerald felt confident that the Knights were going to hit their stride.
“You kind of knew losing to Old Lyme, we knew right there we weren’t going to win the Shorelines,” said Fitzgerald. “It was important that we had to refocus right there. They did a nice job.”
Westbrook responded well by winning 14 of its next 15 matches with the only loss coming to Old Lyme. When the regular season ended, the Knights had posted a record of 15-2.
Westbrook opened up postseason play by participating in the Shoreline Conference’s individual tournaments. Farnoli, Salisbury, freshman Megan Bache, and junior Caroline Dias competed for Westbrook in the singles draw. The doubles teams of Koplas and junior Delaney Belcourt, senior Jami Sacco and sophomore Olivia Palumbo, and Zanzalari and junior Adriana Stranieri also represented the Knights at the event. Farnoli made it to the final of the 1-2 Singles Tournament, while Bache advanced to the championship of the 3-4 Singles Tournament. Koplas and Belcourt reached the semifinals of the Doubles Tournament, as did the team of Sacco and Palumbo.
Following Shorelines, Westbrook competed in a Class S State Tournament bracket that featured many formidable opponents. As the No. 3 seed, the Knights earned wins versus No. 14 Lyman Memorial (6-0) and No. 6 Shepaug Valley (6-1) in the first two rounds. Westbrook then had a big test with a matchup against No. 2 seed Holy Cross in the semifinals and came away with a 6-1 victory. Coach Fitzgerald was amazed with the effort of the team on what turned out to be a crazy day for her players.
“I keep thinking back to the semifinals against Holy Cross, where I think we played our best tennis of the season. That was the day of their prom, and they had a lot on their mind,” Fitzgerald said. “Of the 10 starters, nine were going to prom that day. I told them afterwards, ‘Maybe I should say we’re having a prom every day, because we never played better tennis than today,’”
Farnoli (6-2, 6-2), Bache (6-0, 6-0), and junior Ava Ciarcia (6-3, 6-1) notched wins on the singles court for Westbrook in its win over Holy Cross. Westbrook’s doubles duos of Koplas and Belcourt, Sacco and Palumbo, and Zanzalari and Stranieri also emerged victorious.
Westbrook went on to give a great effort versus Old Lyme in the Class S final, ultimately taking a 4-3 defeat to the Wildcats. Farnoli netted a 6-2, 6-2 win at No. 1 singles; Bache won her No. 3 singles match by a 6-3, 6-3 score; and the No. 3 doubles team of Zanzalari and Stranieri claimed a 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory to account for Westbrook’s points in the contest.
Despite the loss, Coach Fitzgerald felt happy about the fight that the Knights displayed with the state title on the line.
“It wasn’t a disappointing season. What they accomplished was amazing,” said Coach Fitzgerald. “I think even after the state final, we said, ‘You know what, this is a really good year. It was a lot of fun. We didn’t win it all, but that’s alright.’ [Old Lyme was] a phenomenal team. They deserve all the accolades and credit they are receiving.”
Farnoli finished her senior year with a regular-season record of 12-1 as Westbrook’s No. 1 singles player. Farnoli earned All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors and also represented Westbrook in the Individual Invitational Tournament at the end of the year.
Salisbury posted a record of 13-4 during the regular season while playing No. 2 singles for the Knights. Bache finished at 15-2 and garnered All-Shoreline Conference First Team accolades for her performance at No. 3 singles. Dias (8-3) and Ciarcia (7-3) also had strong seasons while sharing time at the No. 4 singles position. Westbrook’s doubles tandems of Koplas-Belcourt, Sacco-Palumbo, and Zanzalari-Stranieri each finished with records of 14-2 on the year.
The Knights’ senior class also included Marlee Archer and Sadie Susi. Westbrook’s roster additionally featured juniors Myan Nguyen and Gabriela Spash, along with sophomore Emily Downie. Looking ahead to next year, Coach Fitzgerald feels eager to see how the returning Knights will try to fill the shoes of the leaders who preceded them.
“There’s a lot of underclassmen who are right behind great players. You’ve got to start fresh and make this team yours,” Fitzgerald said. “How do you replace players that have done so well for the last two years? It’s not an easy thing, but we’ll talk about it.”
Coach Fitzgerald is excited for the challenges that next season will present. While the team earned several wins in blowout fashion this year, Fitzgerald expects Westbrook to play tighter matches next year and will thus be reevaluating the team’s strategy for 2023. As she reflects upon the 2022 season, Fitzgerald praises her players for making it a campaign to remember.
“It’s the journey you take that’s what’s real important,” said Fitzgerald. “One thing I said to them before you go on to states final match was, ‘Think about not a win or a loss. Think about a great tennis moment you’ve had in the last four years.’ It could be anything, and that’s what you want to take with you on the court that day.”