For the Hand girls' tennis team, 2011 will forever be remembered as the year it exercised the demons. For years, the Tigers struggled in the state tournament to get past New Canaan, but that all changed this season.
New Canaan moved up to Class L, clearing the road for the Tigers to finally claim what they had been hunting down for so long: a state title. Hand won its first state championship since tennis became a spring sport by beating Avon 5-2 on June 3, putting the icing on the cake that was the 2011 season.
"We exceeded our expectations because we lost so many starting players from last year," said Coach Kitty Palmer. "So many girls with little or no experience played huge roles this year."
Despite losing much of its varsity roster from 2010, Hand looked to be the same dominant team that played for a Southern Connecticut Conference championship the last four seasons. The Tigers posted a 21-2 mark this season, only losing to SCC foe Amity. Hand lost the first time to Amity in the final match of the regular season 5-2 on May 23, but the loss that hurt the most was in the SCC final when Amity ripped away the Tigers' chance at a fourth straight SCC title.
But quite often, when one door closes another tends to open, and that was the case for the Tigers. New Canaan had been the thorn in the foot of the Tigers for years, but with the Rams out of the picture, it was Hand's turn to shine. The Tigers entered the Class M State Tournament as the No. 2 seed and smashed their way to the final, beating Wilton 5-2, RHAM 7-0, and Darien 5-2, setting up a date with No. 1-seeded Avon in the championship. Just as they had done all season, the Tigers rose to the occasion, bringing the title to Madison.
Leading the charge for the Tigers in 2011 was a trio of captains: seniors Laura Brink, Katherine Eastwood, and Caroline Lepczyk, who were the "heart and soul of the team and respected by all team members," according to Palmer.
The captains were the team's only seniors, meaning the majority of the roster will return for another run at back-to-back state titles. The most notable returner will be junior Taylor Fay, who was the team's No. 1 singles player this year and posted an impressive 21-2 record that earned her All-SCC, All-State, and team MVP honors.
Also returning will be sophomore Rachel Petrini, who will again man the No. 2 singles position where she earned All-State honors this season. Another player to watch in 2012 will be Megan Sosensky. Sosensky won a heated and long match in the state semifinals and was named the team's Most Improved Player. Hand could be set up to be a force in Class M and the SCC for the next three years. Captaining the 2012 team will be Fay and Callie Swiggett, the only two juniors on the team, leaving the core of the team intact for the next two seasons.