NEW BRITAIN - All in all, the 2016 season saw more positives than negatives for the area’s high school girls tennis teams.
Out of the five, four were good enough to qualify for their respective state tournaments - Plainville was the only one to miss the cut and New Britain simply chose not to participate.
This season, however, has the potential to be even better.
Many, if not all, of the teams will be replacing their top players - Berlin’s Julia Perrelli, Southington’s Angela Balaoing and Newington’s Natalie Harackiewicz - yet there are still rosters filled with plenty of talent that have been waiting to show what they are capable of.
Berlin and Plainville are the two that bring back the most depth and are poised for better seasons than the ones they had in 2016. Southington looks to have an interesting mixture of veteran players as well as some inexperienced ones, while it remains unclear what kind of teams New Britain and Newington will be.
Here is a closer look at the teams:
Head coach: Margaret Coates (10th season)
Last Year: 9-6, choose not to participate in Class L tournament
Key losses: Olga Kosakowska (doubles), Jessica Suwala (doubles), Elzbieta Chwatko (singles), Jazmyn Bumanglag (singles)
Expected key returnees: Sarah Belal (so., singles), Celeste Gigliotti (sr., singles)
Outlook: The Hurricanes were good enough to partake in the Class L tournament a season ago when they finished at 9-6, but chose not to participate. This year, New Britain will look to qualify for the postseason. It will just have to do so with some more inexperienced players. Gone are both the top singles players in Elzbieta Chwatko and Jazmyn Bumanglag, as well as the all-conference doubles team of Olga Kosakowska and Jessica Suwala. In total, the Hurricanes lost 10 seniors from their 2016 roster.
The team still has singles players - sophomore Sarah Belal and senior Celeste Gigliotti - returning, but there is still a relatively young roster that has to gain some varsity experience. It could lead to some growing pains along the way or could pay dividends by the end of the season. What exactly New Britain will be in the beginning, middle and even the end of the year remains unclear.
Head coach: Jeremiah Berard (3rd season)
Last year: 14-3, lost in Class M quarterfinals
Key losses: Julia Perrelli, Lindsey Brochu, Stephanie Trevethan, Nina Urso, Livia Hendrickson, Julianna King
Key returnees: Jasmine Nappi (so., No. 1 singles), Bridget Fox (so., No. 2 singles), Alyssa Mayer (sr., doubles), Caylie Whiteside (so., doubles), Maegan Varley (sr., doubles)
Outlook: It was a very successful season for the Redcoats in 2016 as they advanced to the Class M quarterfinals before falling to Lauralton Hall, and head coach Jeremiah Berard had plenty of upperclassmen to rely on.
But Berlin lost six strong players to graduation, including Julia Perrelli who made it to the second round of the State Open, and as such will have to be replaced. The Redcoats, however, seem poised to meet that challenge and continue their run of success.
Sophomores Jasmine Nappi and Bridget Fox are the team’s No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively, while seniors Alyssa Mayer and Maegan Varley as well as sophomore Caylie Whiteside bring strong presences to the doubles courts. Berlin might have lost a good amount of talent, but Berard is expecting Nappi, Fox and the Redcoats’ top doubles teams to qualify individually for the State Open.
At the same time, there is also a bit of youth on the roster with a lot of underclassmen stepping into varsity roles for the first time. Berlin’s ultimate success down the road could hinge on the success of these players on the tennis court.
Still, expect the Redcoats to compete strongly this season.
Head coach: Robin Thompson (6th season)
Last year: 11-7, lost in Class L qualifying round
Key losses: Angela Balaoing (No. 1 singles), Natalia Gimenez (No. 2 singles), Sam Lohneiss (No. 1 doubles), Kayla Kohneiss (No. 1 doubles)
Key returnees: Kristen Mathew (sr., singles), Abby Roy (sr., singles/doubles), Molly Murphy (jr., possible singles/doubles), Samantha Barmore (jr., doubles), Carolyn Callahan (jr.), Coral Tommervik (jr.)
Players to watch out for: Abby Murphy (fr., singles), Joelle Stublarec (fr., doubles), Chantelle Gimenez (so., doubles)
Outlook: Southington saw plenty of success on the court in 2016, once again making the Class L playoffs. Now, as the Blue Knights turn the page to this season, their focus remains the same - to once again play their way into the postseason.
There are some things Southington will have to overcome, tough, to get there. The Blue Knights must replace both of their top singles players in Angela Balaoing (a State Open player) and Natalia Gimenez, as well as their No. 1 doubles team of Sam and Kayla Lohneiss, meaning it will be up to a new crop of players to help do so.
“We return six girls with varsity experience and are diligently working to fill positions to field the best lineup we can,” Southington head coach Robin Thompson said. “Our success will be determined on our returners playing in new positions and our newcomers handling being in our varsity lineup.”
Among those six players returning are seniors Kristen Mathew and Abby Roy and juniors Molly Murphy, Samantha Barmore, Carolyn Callahan and Coral Tommervik. Each is expected to make major contributions in either singles or one of the top doubles teams.
There are also some new faces to watch out for on this year’s squad. Freshman Abby Murphy will most likely find herself in the singles lineup, while freshman Joelle Stublarec and sophomore Chantelle Gimenez are both competing for doubles spots.
If everything comes together as expected, Southington could be a team to contend with coming up.
Head coach: Max Vivian (2nd season)
Last year: 8-7, lost in Class L qualifying round
Key losses: Natalie Harackiewicz, Victoria Usmanova
Expected key returners: N/A
Outlook: As the Indians get ready for the upcoming season, they will do so for the first time in a while without Natalie Harackiewicz and Victoria Usmanova. Harackiewicz was an all-conference player, who also made it to the third round of the 2016 State Open. The good news is Newington only lost seven seniors from what was a huge roster last season and should have no problem finding either replacements or depth for this year’s team.
That being said, it is still unknown what to expect or what this season’s Indians team will exactly be. They could be good enough to once again make the state tournament or could be hampered by what looks to be a rather inexperienced roster.
Head coach: Chuck Radda (31th season, 223-243 record)
Last year: 6-10, missed Class S playoffs
Key losses: Kristina Petit, Emily Bienasz, Isabella Fils
Key returnees: Elyssa Tomczyk (sr., No. 1 singles), Erin Brochu (sr., No. 2 singles), Kelly Tuczapski (jr., No. 3 singles), Andrea Ybañez (so., No. 4 singles), Angela Zheng (sr., No. 1 doubles), Aleksa Fiedorowicz (sr., No. 1 doubles), Caroline St. Pierre (jr., No. 2 doubles), Anna Stehle (jr., No. 2 doubles), Hannah Charest (jr., No. 3 doubles), Elona Tanski (jr., No. 3 doubles)
Outlook: After making the Class S tournament in 2015, Plainville took a bit of a step back last season, finishing just 6-10 and on the outside looking in when the playoffs rolled around.
“We underachieved a little - had chances to make states but couldn’t quite push through,” head coach Chuck Radda said.
The good news, though, is Radda only lost three pieces from a year ago in Kristina Petit, Emily Bienasz and Isabella Fils and the Blue Devils have a roster full of upperclassmen that should only help the team find its way back to the postseason.
Seniors Elyssa Tomczyk and Erin Brochu are the top singles players, while Aleksa Fiedorowicz and Caroline St. Pierre form the No. 1 doubles team. Junior Kelly Tuczapski and sophomore Andrea Ybañez round out the singles group. There are also some underclassmen that could work their way into the varsity lineups before the year is out.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had a stronger 1-2 combination at singles,” Radda said. “I’d also come to see our three new freshmen play. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in matches by the end of the season.”
Some weaknesses the head coach sees in his team are what he labels as the same every year - footwork and shot making. But the key to the season for Plainville, however, is remaining injury free.
“We’re solid at the top but thin beyond our first 10,” Radda said. “Quick development by new players could help.”
Now, it will just be a wait-and-see game.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach