Lee girls tennis wins back-to-back Western Mass. D-III championships
SPRINGFIELD — After stepping off the court during the Western Massachusetts Division III championship, Lee girls tennis senior Ava Martin was asked to describe her Wildcats in one sentence.
"We are a powerhouse and a force to be reckoned with," Martin said, while smiling from ear-to-ear.
She made a good point, seeing how the Wildcats claimed their second-straight Western Mass. title with a 4-1 victory over South Hadley on Monday.
"They don't stop," Lee coach Norma Comalli said. "They're tenacious, all play very hard and they don't quit. We've been really cohesive this year and that is what makes champions. It's not just one player, it's an entire team."
What makes the Wildcats special is that there is talent from the top of the roster right down to the bottom, which explains why the championship extended an 18-0 season into the MIAA state semifinals. With that in mind, Lee was put to the test by not only the Tigers, but by the sun beating down on the court.
"It was really hard once we got to the second set when I was hot and tired," Martin said of her match with Hailey Werenski. "I was having trouble breaking her serves so that is when it went down hill a little bit."
While Martin described it as going down hill, she still pulled off a 6-2, 6-4 win to claim the first match of the day for the Wildcats.
Shortly after first singles came to an end, Anna Wang walked off the court with a 6-0, 6-1 victory in second singles.
"We've been pretty nervous," Wang explained. "But, we knew what to expect after last year so we just came in and played our game."
The unique aspect of Wang's match is that her opponent, Kaylin Cousineau, and her each had similar playing styles.
"She was hitting everything back and its pretty difficult with the sun out," said Wang. "It is hot and you just want to get it over with, but I just kept waiting until I found a good one I could fire back."
As if it were planned, just after Martin and Wang exited the court, not a minute later, Suriana Lee exited with a 6-0, 6-1 win in third singles to lock up the program's second championship in two years.
"It feels amazing [to win a Western Mass. title] and it is so special to win with these people," Lee said. "We practice with each other, we hit with each other, we strengthen each other and we bring each other up if someone isn't feeling great. It is an awesome atmosphere to be a part of."
Paige Barry and Cindy Ni added a fourth tally to the win column with a 6-1, 7-6 (7-5) win in second doubles.
"I am really fortunate to have all these great competitors," Comalli said. "We felt confident coming in and didn't feel like underdogs, even though we were the second seed."
The top-seeded Tigers took first doubles, however, it took close to two and a half hours to do so. Rachel Wendling and Caroline Maloney gave Aislinn Ford and Bella Earle a run for their money, but Ford and Earle escaped with the victory 7-6, 6-7, 10-8.
Before last year's championship, the Wildcats had not won a Western Mass. trophy since 2008, and now Lee High will have to find space for another piece of hardware. According to Martin and Wang, having this much success wasn't in the realm of possibility when they first entered high school.
"I was playing softball and I was really passionate about it," Martin said. "I took up tennis as something to do during the summer and it blew softball away for me. I just love it and I've been working every day to get better."
"I did not think it was possible," Wang added. "Not only to get this far, but meet so many great people and have so many great teammates. It is really a treat to win Western Mass. twice."
While the ride back to Lee is one this crew will never forget, the story isn't over for this bunch. On Monday they will play the winner of Wednesday's Central Mass. championship game — between Hopedale and AMSA, with a time and location yet to be determined. If they happen to defeat the Central champion, they would then play for a state title next Wednesday.
"We just have to keep our heads in the game because if we are focused I think we can accomplish anything we want to," Lee said. "It's a special team here and we all worked so hard."
Singles — 1. Ava Martin (L) def. Hailey Werenski 6-2, 6-4; 2. Anna Wang (L) def. Kaylin Cousineau 6-0, 6-1; 3. Suriana Lee (L) def. Madden Lacoste 6-0, 6-1.
Doubles — 1. Aislinn Ford/Bella Earle (SH) def. Rachel Wendling/Caroline Maloney 7-6, 6-7, 10-8; 2. Paige Barry/Cindy Ni (L) def. Ali Descheneaux/Julia Pratt 6-1, 7-6 (7-5).
Jake Mendel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @JMendel94 on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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