GHS #1 singles player Catherine Zak during Northwest Catholic match last week
A year off hasn’t affected the girls’ tennis team at GHS. Coming into the week, the Guardian have won every meet, including clean sweeps in six of seven contests.
From a win-loss standpoint it is reminiscent of the 2017 and 2018 teams, which won a state championship in 2017 and finished the 2018 regular season undefeated (17-0).
Head coach Sharon Murphy said the demeanor of the 2021 squad differs from those past teams.
“It’s just a totally different group of girls that I had when we were on top,” the eighth-year head coach said, “It’s a sweet group of girls. They are all extremely polite, they help each other out and it’s a joy to be around them.”
Leading the way is Catherine Zak, who is the team’s #1 singles player.
As a freshman in 2019, Zak played in the State Open and won a first round match.
After losing a high school season due to the COVID-19 cancellation, she has returned for her junior campaign in an expanded role.
“I definitely feel like I’m a leader, especially being #1 and being a role model for the girls coming up next,” said Zak, “Being a junior I only have a few years left, so I want them to see what it’s like to be #1 and what it’s like to be on the lineup and have that responsibility.”
Zak won her first four matches before suffering a loss against Rocky Hill’s Suhani Sheth last Monday. She won the first set 6-3, before dropping the second set (3-6) and a third-set tiebreaker (8-10).
Despite the loss, Zak enjoys the competition and uses the loss as fuel for future matches.
“It’s one of the most competitive matches I’ve had. These matches are really fun for me,” Zak said following the defeat, “I don’t like to get mad at myself that much with these competitive matches. I just have fun and at the end of the day it’s just one match out of the 15 that we have, and we have much more coming up.”
Murphy added, “I’m sure she’s a little disappointed in herself with a few unforced errors that could have swayed the game either way. The fact that she said she is having fun and was chatting with the other girl shows a lot about her character and being an overall good sport.”
Annee Bess Blair, the #2 singles player, also suffered her first defeat vs Rocky Hill. Blair also won the first set before dropping the second and third-set tiebreaker, losing a competitive match to Jen Kimball.
Murphy said her two top singles players can use the losses as learning moments, “Today was our first real competition and they both came up on wrong end. I think they both played phenomenally well, and it shows them what they really need to work on and what they need to focus on. They need to focus on closing out the match, especially in the second set.”
The supporting cast picked up the slack, winning the rest of the matches as the Guardians held off the Terriers (5-2).
Olivia Lee and Emma Kantor each won singles matches. The senior tandem of Mitra Atighechi and Bridget Corey won the #1 doubles match, while the Anna Radulescu/Erin Cabana and Norah Andersson/Sammie Chung duos also won doubles matches.
Atighechi and Corey earned all-conference in 2019 and are two of four seniors, along with Cabana and Radulescu, that Murphy has on her roster. Because of the circumstances surrounding last spring, all four seniors where named team captains.
Chung, a junior, is a player that Murphy and assistant coach Fredy Escudero praised for stepping up this spring.
“She made big improvement. Her net game is aggressive,” stated Murphy, “She wants to play, and she wants to win.”
Following the Rocky Hill meet, both Zak (6-0, 6-1) and Blair (6-0, 6-0) both rebounded with convincing wins against Northwest Catholic. The Guardian swept the match, losing only seven points the entire meet.
Emma Miller and freshman Leila Azimov picked up singles victories, while Atighechi/Corey, Abdersson/Chung, and Zoe Gates/Lexi Tran took home doubles victories.
Due to an expanded roster, Murphy tried a new approach this season by having the younger girls come in an hour earlier to use the courts prior to the veteran players showing up. This has allowed for more teaching moments.
“We can work on things in smaller groups and help them get better,” stated Murphy.
Murphy’s team closed the week with another clean sweep of East Catholic, improving to 7-0.
Zak and Blair each won (6-0, 6-0).
Zak said that win or lose, the players are just happy to be part of a team again, “It’s honestly amazing. We just learned to come together more, and we just try and cheer each other on more.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin