If it's at all possible, the bar has been raised even higher for the Hand girls' tennis team moving forward. No longer will just a single conference or state title suffice now that the Tigers' pallets have been introduced to the combination of SCC and Class M championship flavors.
Hand won its first Class M title a season ago, but this year marked the first time in school history it crowned a Southern Connecticut Conference and state champion in the same season. Fresh off a win over Amity in the SCC Tournament just a week prior, the Tigers cruised their way to the Class M semifinal, where a dramatic win over North Haven propelled them to the title match.
On paper, Hand was the underdog going into the June 1 duel with No. 1 seed East Lyme at the Yale Tennis Center, but followers of girls' tennis knew the Tigers were the clear favorite to win back-to-back state crowns and Kitty Palmer's team didn't disappoint, blanking the Vikings 7-0.
"This year's [state title was sweeter] because this team had a great season and we won some huge games, lost the fewest matches, and we won SCCs and states," said Hand Coach Kitty Palmer. "They are all special, but this one was about being so successful."
Though the championship match pitted the Tigers against East Lyme, it was the semifinal match the day before that set the tone. Hand, the No. 2 seed, knocked off North Haven in the semifinal despite trailing 3-0 after the No. 1, 2, and 4 singles players all quickly lost.
"Honestly, I was kind of upset because I played awful," said senior co-captain Taylor Fay. "I don't know what happened to one, two, and [four] singles."
But Hand battled back, sweeping the doubles play and waiting over four hours for No. 3 singles player Melissa Parker to finish and win her match, punching the Tigers' ticket to the final.
"I don't even know how [Parker] played today," Palmer said following the win over East Lyme. "She will continue to fight, and maybe her shots aren't the best of anybody on the team, but she hustles to every ball and never gives up."
In the final, all of the Tigers returned to form, including Fay, who won 6-3, 6-0 in No. 1 singles.
"It is amazing because we haven't won SCC and states before in the history of Daniel Hand girls' tennis," Fay said. "It is really amazing in your senior year to accomplish that."
Rachel Petrini at No. 2 singles earned a 6-1, 6-1 victory with Megan Sosensky coming through in No. 4 (7-5, 6-2). Just like she was in the SCC final and in the state quarterfinal, Parker was the last to finish, battling her way to a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 win and finishing off Hand's clean sweep.
"[Playing the next day helped]; sitting around wouldn't have been good," said Palmer. "I don't think many of them slept last night because it was so emotional. I mean, really, we thought we were done because North Haven really played well."
Hand was again dominant in doubles play as the top pairing of Claudia Lohn and Gabby Diotalevi cruised to a 6-0, 6-0 victory and the No. 2 team of Nicole Cahill and senior co-captain Callie Swiggett also won 6-2, 6-0.
"When we were down [to North Haven] originally and got back up we knew today we were going to be able to pull through because we work the hardest," Swiggett said.
Alyssa Fleischman and Chole Squitiero sealed the doubles sweep with a 6-0, 6-0 win at No. 3.
"This is awesome, especially after winning SCCs. This is a great way to end my senior year," said Swiggett.