Knights Off to Scorching Start at 6-1
Junior captain Julia Farnoli and the Westbrook girls’ tennis team triumphed over East Hampton, Coginchaug, and Valley Regional last week. Farnoli has been great at the No. 1 singles position this season, and she big aspirations for the Shoreline Conference Tournament. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Sophomore Ava Ciarcia picked up her first win of the season with a 7-5, 6-4 victory at the No 3 singles spot against Coginchaug on April 22. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Xan Zanzalari and her No. 1 doubles partner Bree Koplas (not pictured) have made huge improvements in their games since they last took the court as freshmen in 2019. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
The Westbrook girls’ tennis team has been off to a hot start this season. Last week, the Knights took on East Hampton, Coginchaug, and Valley Reigional and earned wins in each match. Head Coach Paula Fitzgerald’s squad moved to 6-1 on the season and looks to be one of the top teams in all of the Shoreline Conference.
While this torrid beginning to the season has been a pleasant surprise, Coach Fitzgerald believes the biggest win is just being out on the court again. After the COVID-19 pandemic caused spring sports to be canceled in 2020, a full season of competition is a sight for sore eyes according to Fitzgerald.
“It it so nice to be back on the court. You don’t realize how much you miss something until you have the chance to actually miss it. The kids are having fun,” Fitzgerald said. “Any kid playing a sport this year has to be thrilled, especially the spring sports because they had no season last year. Schools have worked very hard making the accommodation and letting the kids play. The parents are thrilled because they can actually spectate.”
The Knights feature a young squad this year without a single senior on the roster. That fact has made the early success that much more impressive. Coach Fitzgerald believes that stems from a solid group of junior captains in Julia Farnoli, Gianni Salisbury, Bree Koplas, and Xan Zanzalari.
“There were four juniors who started the season playing as freshman. We have no seniors this year, and they have taken charge,” said Fitzgerald. “They’ve done a phenomenal job. I told them that this was their team over the next two years, and they’ve been great. They are as good as any captains that I have ever had.”
The Knights opened up last week’s slate with a 6-1 home win over East Hampton on April 19. In singles matches, Farnoli earned a 6-2, 6-0 win at the No. 1 position, while Salisbury grabbed a 6-1, 6-2 win at the No. 2 spot. Junior Jami Sacco claimed a 6-1, 6-2 win at No. 4. As for doubles matches, the No. 1 duo of Zanzalari and Koplas earned a 6-0, 6-0 win, and the No. 2 pairing of freshman Olivia Palumbo and sophomore Adrianna Stranieri claimed a 6-2, 6-1 victory. At the No. 3 position, sophomores Caroline Dias and Sophia Rutkis snagged a 6-1, 6-0 win.
Coach Fitzgerald has been pleased with the improvement she’s seen from the veteran and newer doubles players alike.
“Bree played No. 4 singles two years ago, and Xan was the next player off the bench. It was a huge jump for both of them. There’s a huge difference between No. 4 singles and No. 1 doubles. They are doing a phenomenal job. When the season began, I wanted Bree at No. 1 and Xan at No. 2, but there was no one else that could really play with Bree except Xan,” Fitzgerald said. “Olivia and Adrianna are doing very well. They’re figuring it out as they play, and they just keep getting better. Caroline and Sophia are also brand new. It’s sort of the same story with them. I told them all today that we’re where we are because of the work that they’ve all done.”
On April 22, the competition picked up against Coginchaug, but Westbrook still earned 5-2 home win. Salisbury claimed a 6-0, 6-0 win, while sophomore Ava Ciarcia earned a hard-fought 7-5, 6-4 win at the No. 3 position. Sacco grabbed a 6-0, 6-1 win.
On the doubles court, Stranieri and Palumbo had netted a wild 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 win, while Dias and Rutkis had a more relaxed 6-0, 6-1 win.
Coach Fitzgerald was very impressed with Ciarcia’s first victory of the year. Ciarcia is new to tennis as well, but she’s a strong athlete and hard worker.
“Ava’s brand new, and like any beginner there are moments of greatness and then some not so much. That win against Coginchaug was her first of the season, and it was nice to see her get that one,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s all about confidence. I told her that I wouldn’t take her out of that spot because she belongs there. She just has to work everyday at getting a little bit better.”
On April 23, the Knights played a marathon home match against Valley Regional. Westbrook notched a 5-2 victory.
“We knew Coginchaug would be tough and Valley would be tougher even tougher. That Valley match, I got home at 7 o’clock, and we were the home team. First and second singles ended up going over 3 ½ hours,” said Fitzgerald. “We swept the doubles. Those were the first three matches off the courts. Of those super-long matches, Julia won first. That was our fourth point. I give that No. 2 Valley girl a lot of credit. She knew that Valley had lost the match, but she still played Gianni hard even though the score of the match was over.”
Farnoli claimed the 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 win, while Salisbury took her match 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. On the doubles side, Koplas and Zanzalari got the 6-1, 6-2 win, Palumbo and Stranieri earned the 6-2, 6-1 victory, and Dias and Rutkis claimed a 6-1, 6-1 win.
Coach Fitzgerald has been impressed with the fight shown by Farnoli and Salisbury. They’ve made big improvements and have even more room to grow.
“For Julia, there are four weeks until the Shoreline Tournament, and she’s picked up some things that she needs to work on. She’s been working a bit with [former Knights star tennis player] Casey Burns. Julia’s only losses came against Old Lyme and Coginchaug, and I assume those two will be undefeated until they play each other. Her win against Valley yesterday was big for seeding,” said Fitzgerald. “Gianni played No. 3 doubles her freshman year. She’s probably made the biggest jump. I even told her at the beginning of the year that I wasn’t sure she would be winning a lot at No. 2, but she has. I give her all the credit in the world.”
Sacco at No. 4 singles has also been impressive for a tennis novice.
“Jami’s fellow basketball players told her that she has to come out for tennis. This sport will be perfect for her to work on her footwork,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s going to get there. She has great hand-eye coordination, and she’s a great athlete. Really good athletes just get better and better as the season goes on.”
Coach Fitzgerald thinks Westbrook can be one of the top teams in the Shoreline. Westbrook has already done some heavy lifting for a high seed in the Shoreline Tournament.
There are just a few more seeding matches left for the Knights, and Coach Fitzgerald cautiously believes her squad is in a good spot.
“Old Lyme is probably going to run away with this league. They can probably win the Class S tournament this year,” says Fitzgerald. “So our goal is to win out next week. You meet everyone once for seeding, and then play a few others. If we win our remaining matches, we would be No. 2 in the league. We didn’t think that could happen at the beginning of the year. Now saying that could come back and bite me next week, but that’s our goal to try for.”