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Junior No. 1 singles Sofia Cavalier and the North Branford girls’ tennis team are in the midst of an excellent 2019 season that’s seen the T-Birds notch a record of 13-4 so far. North Branford has also qualified for the Class S State Tournament for the first time in several years. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Jordan Caplan won all three of her contests at No. 3 singles to help the Thunderbirds take two of their three matches last week. North Branford defeated Morgan and Coginchaug to go with a loss against Valley Regional. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior Alyssa Diaz joined forces with sophomore Caite Dow to earn a 7-6 (8-6) victory in the No. 2 doubles match when North Branford posted a 7-0 shutout over Coginchaug on May 9. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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The North Branford girls’ tennis team is on the verge of completing its best regular season in recent memory as the T-Birds are sporting a record of 13-4 with three matches remaining. North Branford’s 13 victories are the third-most by any team in the Shoreline Conference this year, and Head Coach Matt Tortora’s squad has already qualified for Class S State Tournament. It’s been several seasons since the T-Birds have competed in states.
“In all honesty, it’s special. To see it all come together now is honestly a dream come true. As a coach, you think of things in wins and losses, but beyond that, if you take a minute to reflect on the journey and how much work the kids put in so we could have this success, that’s the pinnacle of coaching,” said Tortora, who’s in his third season as North Branford’s head coach. “At the start of the year, we said we wanted to finish in the top three of the Shoreline Conference, and we have a shot at that. We’ve already qualified for states. It’s incredible to see the fruits of their labor.”
The Thunderbirds won two of their three matches last week by losing to Valley Regional (4-3) and then defeating Morgan (6-1) and Coginchaug (7-0). To start off the week, North Branford dropped a 4-3 decision at Valley Regional, which owns the top record in the Shoreline Conference at 16-0. The defeat marked the second time that North Branford lost to the Warriors by a 4-3 score this season.
The T-Birds’ three victories came on the singles court, where junior Sofia Cavalier won a 6-1, 6-0 decision in the No. 1 matchup; senior captain Sydney Constantinidi earned a 6-4, 6-1 victory at No. 2; and senior captain Jordan Caplan notched a 7-6 (8-6), 6-1 win at No. 3.
This trio has been a staple in Coach Tortora’s singles lineup since he joined the program a few years ago. Constantinidi, Caplan, and junior Brianna Dautai are serving as North Branford’s captains this spring. Tortora said that each one of his captains brings something positive to the squad.
“Sydney is one of our hardest-working players. Jordan has intense maturity where she definitely acts well beyond her age,” said Tortora. “Briana is our most vocal. Whether in a huddle or if she’s three courts away, you can hear her lifting our players and giving them encouragement.”
Fortunately for North Branford, it isn’t just the captains who are taking their tennis games seriously. Tortora said there are a dozen athletes on the team who are doing private lessons and other work during the offseason through various workouts and clinic. That extra effort is paying big-time dividends for the T-Birds in 2019.
“All these girls went into the offseason with a goal in mind. They wanted to get better for each other, and props to them and their parents to be able to do and support that. It’s not easy to do, but they’ve all committed, and now we’re seeing the results,” Coach Tortora said. “The players honestly love each other. They look at each other like sisters. They hang out outside of tennis, which I think makes it easier to get better. If one player sees another doing well, they want to left their game to match their intensity.”
On May 8, North Branford hosted Morgan and prevailed by a 6-1 final. The T-Birds swept singles play as Cavalier claimed a 6-0, 6-0 victory at No. 1; Constantinidi earned a 6-0, 6-1 win at No. 2; Caplan notched a 6-0, 6-0 win at No. 3; and junior Janessa Pompano posted a 6-0, 6-0 shutout at No. 4.
In doubles, North Branford’s No. 1 pairing of junior captain Briana Dautaj and fellow junior Ava Galdenzi earned a 6-1, 6-1 victory, while the No. 3 team of seniors Aaliyah Aaron and Ashley Testa rallied for a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 win.
To close out the week, North Branford blanked Coginchaug by the final tally of 7-0 in a home match on May 9. Cavalier won a 6-0, 6-0 shutout at No. 1 singles; Constantinidi earned a 6-0, 6-0 win at No. 2 singles; Caplan won 6-1, 6-3 in the No. 3 singles match; and Pompano netted a 6-0, 6-0 victory at No. 4 singles.
For doubles action, Dautaj and Galdenzi notched a 6-1, 6-0 win at No. 1; senior Alyssa Diaz and sophomore Catie Dow won a 7-6 (8-6), 6-3 decision at No. 2; and sophomore Emma Serenson and Testa claimed a 6-1, 7-5 victory at No. 3 to help the Thunderbirds pick up the 13th win of their special season.
Coach Tortora credited his two volunteer assistant coaches, Liz Caplan and Joe Cappetta, for playing a huge role in North Branford’s rapid rise as a program.
“To their credit, I wouldn’t be able to build this team and program so quickly. It’s unique in a sense where during practice we can split our players into three groups,” Tortora said. “We believe in our system. We have a comprehensive plan that is drawn up to the minute. Because of that, we’ve super-accelerated our growth and have built this foundation to our program.”
With the playoffs drawing closer, Coach Tortora feels excited to see what’s on the horizon for his growing group during postseason play. No matter what happens, Tortora knows that the T-Birds are going to compete with plenty of passion on the court in each and every match.
“I’m inspired, because I see how hard they work. They make me want to work harder,” Tortora said. “When we talk about loving the game, you develop another layer of passion when you see those tallies in the win column.”
From the Sidelines
The North Branford girls’ tennis team’s roster features senior captains Sydney Constantinidi and Jordan Caplan; seniors Aaliyah Aaron, Alexina Cristante, Alyssa Diaz, and Ashely Testa; junior captain Briana Dautaj; juniors Sofia Cavalier, Ava Galdenzi, Ariana Malavasi, Janessa Pompano, Madison Rosiak, and Samantha Saengsuwan; sophomores Brianna Brezicki, Catie Dow, Alyssa Nero, Emma Serenson, and Charlotte Villano; and freshmen Brianni Berrois, Valissa Cavalier, Dhruvi Patel, and Diya Pate.
The T-Birds have recorded two wins apiece against Portland (7-0 and 7-0), Cromwell (7-0 and 5-2), Haddam-Killingworth (6-1 and 7-0), Morgan (7-0 and 6-1), and Coginchaug (5-2 and 7-0) this season, along with one win apiece versus Westbrook (4-3), East Hampton/Hale-Ray (6-1), and Old Saybrook (6-1).
North Branford has taken two 4-3 defeats to Valley Regional, in addition to 4-3 losses against Old Lyme and Westbrook.
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