Top-seeded Darien rolls into FCIAC girls tennis final

Darien High School Girls Tennis No. 1 singles player Emily Wiley plays in her match against Lulowe High School Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Fairfield, Conn. Wiley is coming back from pit bull bite two years ago that left her unable to play. She has returned to be the top singles player for Darien.

Darien High School Girls Tennis No. 1 singles player Emily Wiley plays in her match against Lulowe High School Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Fairfield, Conn. Wiley is coming back from pit bull bite two years ago that left her unable to play. She has returned to be the top singles player for Darien.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

Any doubts that the Darien girls tennis team might take some time to get into a rhythm after the 2020 season was lost to the pandemic faded pretty fast this spring.

With seven returning varsity players, and a pair of freshmen who have had an immediate impact, the Blue Wave rolled through the season and is now one step away from an FCIAC championship.

Darien (14-1), the top seed in the FCIAC team, will take on No. 2 Staples (14-1) in the conference final at 4 p.m., Wednesday, in Wilton. It’s the Wave’s fourth league final appearance in five years, while Staples is the two-time defending champion.

It’s all the result of a season in which the Wave “gelled really well and really quickly,” according to Darien coach Anne-Lise Brown.

“The team has always been super tight, so it was a little easier for us to do,” Brown said of the Wave’s return. “They’ve been super supportive of each other and they’re all excited for our seniors this year. All four of them have been with us since freshman year.

“We have a very, very deep team this year. It’s deeper than we’ve had in a long time.”

Darien’s roster features just four seniors: No. 1 singles player Emily Wiley and her twin sister Kate, and senior doubles players Caroline Homes and Daniella Castellanos.

The Wave has been dominant. In 15 team matches, they’ve given up just 18 points, winning all nine matches by 6-1 or better, and another four by 5-2 scored. They topped defending champion Staples 4-3 on April 22, and their only loss was a 4-3 decision to Ludlowe two days later.

Ludlowe was the No. 4 seed in the FCIAC tournament and lost to No. 5 Westhill 4-3 in the quarterfinals. Darien then topped Westhill 5-2 in the semifinals, sweeping the doubles matches and splitting the four singles contests.

“The key there was that our doubles teams are solid and we have a lot of experience there,” Brown said. “And we have two freshmen - Sarah Donnelly, who’s playing two singles, and Emmeline Wang who’s playing No. 3 - and they are just rock solid.”

Donnelly won her match 6-3, 6-0 over Niki Economidis to remain unbeaten at 11-0.

“In 11 matches, she’s only lost 15 games and five of those were in the first match against Westhill (on April 14). She just annihilates her opponents and I think they underestimate her when they first walk out on the court.”

Wang won her match 6-2, 6-2 over Isabel Jakes.

The other two singles matches were tight.

At No. 1, Westhill’s Martina Kabe edged Emily Wiley 7-5, 6-3, and at No. 4, the Vikings’ Nicole Savage defeated Darien sophomore Ava deCastro in a match decided by a third pro set 4-6, 6-4, 15-13.

The Wave’s depth came through in doubles.

At No. 1, Homes and junior Catherine Rolapp defeated Jacqueline Kaba and Zara Williamson 6-4, 6-3, and in the second spot, Castellanos and sophomore Grace Althoff defeated Amanda Smeriglio and Sophia Alexander 6-0, 6-2.

The No. 3 team of juniors Cameron Cavanna and Juliette Johnson defeated Rebecca Friedlander and Allison Lopez 6-0, 6-1 to complete the sweep.

Brown said the Blue Wave is in a good place heading into the FCIAC final.

“All of my seniors, while they really want this - they wanted to get to the finals and they want to win - they also want to have fun,” the coach said. “I think they have a pretty decent balance of just enjoying it and not stressing too much.”

david.stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports