By John Goralski
Fans barely had enough time to find a seat by the fence when Southington’s seniors trotted off the court with a doubles victory. A few moments later, a singles player shouted in triumph. On Sunday, May 26, New Britain tennis players fell like dominos as Southington christened the spring postseason with a tournament win.
Nobody was complaining about a first round home match that ruined plans during the holiday weekend. Only the coaches seemed concerned about the wind that whipped across the Southington courts or the unseasonable cold that descended upon the courts.
The Lady Knights were just happy for the change in format that gave them a first round win without the rigors of a double-header.
“I think it’s huge,” said Lady Knight tennis coach Robin Thompson. “It’s hard to play two matches in the same day, and at this time of year the weather is typically full of sun, heat, and humidity. I’ll take this kind of format any time—with a little less wind.”
The Knights dispatched the Hurricanes with ease. Alex Barmore and Cassidy Race won in straight sets at singles. Angela Balaoing-Susan Murphy and Emily Sheehan-Maeghan Chapman scored straight set wins. Caroline Rodman was on her way to victory in the second set when New Britain’s No. 1 singles player was forced to retire due to an injury, and that left Rianna Susco as the only Lady Knight in a third set battle.
Susco swept her first set, fell in the second, but rebounded with a big victory to give Southington a 6-1 win. The score was identical to their regular season contest in mid-May, but Thompson said that the rematch was harder than the score makes it appear.
“I’m really happy with the fact that we had a home match for the first time in a while, but it was a different New Britain lineup than we saw last time. Our kids knew it was a whole knew lineup, and I told them not to think our last result was going to be the same this time,” said Thompson. “They knew that they had to go out and play, and I’m really happy with the way we won. Our girls had to perform on a really tough tennis day. Now, we look forward to our next match.”
With the victory, Southington earned a rematch at Newington in the next round. When they last met in late April, Newington ended the Lady Knight bid for a perfect season with a 5-2 victory. Now, Thompson hopes to show how far her young team has come since that day.
“When we lost to them earlier this season, I told myself that I wanted to do it over again,” said the coach. “We lost two or three matches in three sets, and I think we’ve turned the corner on that. I think that, if we’re in the same situation on Tuesday, it could be a win for us. It’s a good strong match. We have to win the close ones.”
Regular season finales
The Knights won a pair of contests in the final week of the regular season with a tight victory over Bristol Eastern and a perfect sweep at Platt in Meriden.
On Monday, the Knights converted two of their three split-set matches to score a 4-3 win over the Lancers. Rodman and Barmore won in straight sets. Race rebounded from a second set loss to score a singles victory in split sets, while Murphy-Balaoing dropped the second set on their way to a split-set win at No. 1 doubles.
“We pulled it out, and this was a good match and good prep for the state tournament,” said Thompson. “With today’s win, Angela Balaoing and Susan Murphy have qualified to play in the individual tournament as a doubles team, and Caroline Rodman has already qualified at No. 1 singles. That’s not too shabby for a squad primarily comprised of underclassmen. I’m very proud of these kids.”
Barmore continued the trend the following day as she out-lasted h
er opponent in a first set tie breaker, lost the second, but rebounded with a 6-2 win in the finale. The victory snapped her opponent’s undefeated season and earned Barmore a state open bid.
“This is quite an accomplishment for her,” said Thompson, “and this was by no means an easy win.”
The Knights battled for wins in all three split-set matches with two of them needing tie breaker victories. Rodman, Race, and Susco won in straight sets to sweep singles play. Murphy-Balaoing, Taylor Grucza-Liz Costello, and Chapman-Sheehan scored wins at doubles.
With the win, Southington improved to 15-3 overall and claimed the No. 9 seed in the Class L brackets.