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Sports Person of the Week
Lombardi Climbing Up Valley’s Lineup
Junior Hayden Lombardi has been serving up some missiles against his opponents while playing the No. 3 singles position for the Valley boys’ tennis squad this year. (Photo courtesy of Hayden Lombardi)
Hayden Lombardi has continued his climb up the ladder for the Valley Regional boys’ tennis team this spring. Hayden is manning the No. 3 singles position after playing No. 4 singles as a freshman two years ago. Now a junior, Hayden is proving an important cog in the Warriors’ winning machine.
Valley holds an 8-2 record after claiming recent victories over Coginchaug and East Hampton. Hayden helped out the Warriors by winning both of his matches on the week. Hayden has been enjoying this season, and he believes that he’s benefiting from the experience of playing some tense contests in the 2019 Class S State Tournament.
“It’s been a great season so far this year. Freshman year, I played No. 4 singles and, obviously, last year, we didn’t have a season,” Hayden says. “I would say that the biggest achievement I’ve had so far playing tennis for Valley is getting into the third round of states my freshman year, playing doubles with Nic Wyskowski.”
Given the Warriors’ stellar record, Hayden has high hopes that he and his teammates will see some postseason action this year. Then, Hayden could have a shot to go even deeper than his last appearance at states.
“My hope right now as a team is to go as far as possible in states,” says Hayden. “For Shorelines, I’m looking for some pretty big accomplishments. The top of the conference is pretty strong, but I don’t think the lower seeds are as difficult as they used to be before COVID. So, I think we have a good chance.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the complexion of a lot of teams across the state, and Hayden believes it’s taking some time for everyone to readjust to being back out on the court competing. Like many other teams, the Warriors are integrating two classes worth of athletes without any varsity experience.
“It took a little getting used to at first, adjusting to sophomores and freshmen. I think of my class—we’re juniors with only a year under our belt now. So, it just feels a little weird knowing that we’re upperclassmen,” Hayden says. “I think so far we’ve played really well. The team has been playing great together so far.”
Hayden kept himself ready over the long layoff from varsity competition during the pandemic. Hayden got in plenty of work throughout the year, especially in the winter months.
“I think a lot of what helped was playing over the summer at Fisher’s Island. We have a good group out there to play, and they stay very competitive,” says Hayden. “In the winter, I went to Old Saybrook Racquet Club. They helped me get in shape quickly. They are good at keeping you consistent as a player. Sometimes I struggle with that, and going back to work on that in the offseason helped a lot.”
One of Hayden’s best assets in a match is his serve and, during the long time away from the court, he worked on that strength even more. In general, Hayden would characterize himself as an aggressive player, and he feels that having a rocket serve puts him in a great position to win points.
“I see myself as a more aggressive player who hits harder serves and leans more toward net play. I think it’s always been a part of my game. You can put people away when you can get a little more power on the ball,” says Hayden, who lives in Essex. “I’d say it starts with my serves. My forehand is more aggressive than my backhand, and my net game is pretty good.”
Valley boys’ tennis Head Coach Callie Riggio knows that she can depend on Hayden to be a rock on the singles court. Riggio also relies on Hayden to serve as a source of support for the rest of the Warriors’ squad.
“Hayden holds the No. 3 singles spot for the tennis team and demonstrates great sportsmanship from that position. He’s very powerful, competitive, strategic, and an all-around great tennis player. He has a very strong serve, which sets him up for many great points and killer overheads,” Riggio says. “Hayden is definitely a role model to the other players on the team, especially the newer players. He’s always prepared and shows up to every match ready to play.”
Hayden has played tennis for the majority of his life, and he doesn’t see that changing anytime soon. Hayden’s love for tennis was passed down to him by his mother Emily.
“I started playing when I was around four years old. I was kind of born into it. My mom played tennis as a child. She set me up with it and, ever since, I’ve been strong with it. She’s very supportive, and she’s there every match. She’s always helping me with tips and pointers post-match,” Hayden says. “I think tennis will always be a hobby of mine. It’s competitive right now, but we’ll see what happens in college.”
Right now, Hayden is laser focused on continuing the Warriors’ run of success this season. As Valley heads into the home stretch, Hayden wants to make sure that his teammates remain just as focused.
“It’s not about seniority. It’s about just sheer talent, and we definitely have some talented freshmen on our team like Aidan Garrity at No. 4 singles and Tomas Dahl at No. 2,” says Hayden. “We just have to keep up the hard work and keep it going. I think we have a very strong shot individually and as a team at states.”