Girls’ tennis at Newington High School had a season for the ages, advancing to the state championship match for the first time in history of the program.
The team won 14 of 17 matches, finishing in a three-way tie for the Central Connecticut Conference-(CCC) North championship, before eliminating three state tournament opponents en route to the state title appearance.
Head coach Sean Hussey said the team’s success was so much more than wins and losses.
“It’s a very united group and the things that we’ve done as a team off the court, to me, is even bigger than even what we do on the court,” said Hussey.
Along with having the most successful season in program history, the Nor’easters gave back to multiple charities by running fundraisers throughout the season, which benefited the local food banks, the Special Olympics, and other organizations.
On the court, it was a vast group of seniors that powered the team, led by captains Anusha Singh, Michelle Novikova, and Vidisha Thakkar.
Singh filled the role as the No. 1 singles player, Novikova the No. 2 singles, and Thakkar was a “spirit-type leader” according to Hussey, who added “[Vidisha] is a natural leader, who gets everybody motivated.”
Singh took on the opposing team’s best singles players in every meet for a second straight spring.
“I feel like we are all so close. A lot of the people on varsity now started playing as freshmen and we have all come a long way,” said Singh. “We worked really hard and put in the effort. We all did it together and that made us even closer.”
Singh was a doubles player as a freshman and – following a year lost to the COVID-cancellation – she returned as a junior in the top role.
“It was an adjustment because you are playing the top player from each high school, but I got a lot more comfortable with it. I found what tactics could help me out,” added Singh.
Novikova, who served as the No. 3 singles player in 2021 before moving up a slot this spring, was incredibly consistent and won every regular season match over the past two years.
“I feel like even though it’s an individual sport we are all here supporting each other. We play as one team together. It’s one big family,” said Novikova. “We have set high standards but most of the time we reach them.”
Novikova added that one of the team’s main goals this spring was to beat Rocky Hill, who went undefeated in 2021 and won the conference outright.
On May 18, Newington achieved that goal by edging Rocky Hill (4-3) in a match that eventually gave the Nor’easters a share of the CCC-North crown.
The meet with Rocky Hill ultimately came down to the No. 3 doubles match where Newington’s duo of Alyssa Dugas and Julia Montgomery defeated Lejla Beskovic and Briela Santos (7-5, 6-3) to wrap up the road win.
“We knew what was at stake. We lost to Rocky Hill three years in a row and this squad felt it. They really wanted to win that match,’ recalled Hussey. “It was a great match and a beautiful day to play tennis. [It was] extremely competitive and fortunately this year we were able to come out on top.”
Two days later, the team failed to wrap up sole possession of the conference championship by losing to Wethersfield (3-4).
However, following an opening round win over RHAM in the state tourney, the Nor’easters avenged the loss to their neighbors by eliminating the Eagles (4-3) in the quarterfinals.
Singh, Novikova, and Diana Sliwinski won singles matches, while Dugas and Montgomery again secured the match by winning in doubles play.
The team then knocked out Joel Barlow in the semifinals behind individual wins from Novikova and Sliwinski, and doubles triumphs by Dugas / Montgomery and Rebecca Fisher / Ella DePase.
Fisher and DePase – the team’s No. 2 double team – scored the team’s only win in the championship match loss to Guilford.
Hussey said his robust senior class made the historic season special, adding, “They led the charge and kept the group cohesive. All the girls, especially the captains, rallied the troops and pushed them to be their best.”
He added that the departing seniors “cherished every moment” because of what they had been through in regards to the previous headships and said the entire team was responsible for the championship effort.
“In tennis you might feel like an individual out there but every point counts towards a team win, so you really have to rely on everyone around you,” said Hussey.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin