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For most high school girls tennis teams, losing your top two singles players and half of your No. 1 doubles tandem from a year ago could be crippling.

Not so at Darien High, however. No, despite such key losses, it’s business as usual for the Blue Wave.

Darien, which won back-to-back FCIAC championships in 2016 and ’17, went a perfect 16-0 during the 2018 regular season and finished an impressive 21-2 overall. The only two losses, however, came in the FCIAC and Class L state finals, both to Staples and both by scores of 4-3. The Blue Wave beat the Wreckers 5-2 in the regular season.

Nevertheless, it was another banner season for the DHS program, which did capture a third straight East Division crown. But if the Wave is going to make it four in a row and get back to the conference and state finals, they’ll have to do it without Lilly Ma, their No. 1 singles player last season and the 2018 FCIAC Player of the Year as a junior. Her only loss came in the Class L state championships to rival Alyssa DiMaio of Staples, who Ma had beaten in the FCIAC finals.

But with a demanding academic schedule, among other reasons, the Duke University-bound Ma could not make the time commitment to play tennis this spring.

Meanwhile, Emilia Callery, Darien’s No. 2 singles player last year who joined Ma as an All-FCIAC first-team selection, graduated, as did Emily Neuner, one-half of the Blue Wave’s No. 1 doubles team which also garnered first-team all-conference honors. Callery and Neuner were both four-year varsity starters.

“They were bedrocks,” Anne-Lise Brown, beginning her fourth year as head coach, said. “But I still have a lot from last year’s team coming back and I’m looking forward to another good and strong season by our girls. We had a very deep team last year and I don’t expect it to be different this year.

“Plus we had some players last year who did not have the opportunity to play much, but they are ready this year.”

Given Brown’s track record so far, having guided Darien to division titles and the FCIAC finals in each of her first three seasons, not to mention a sparkling 47-1 regular-season record, she certainly has reason to be optimistic.

For starters, seven of the Blue Wave’s top 10 players from a year ago return, including sophomore twins Emily and Katie Wiley, who played three and four singles, respectively, and are expected to move up to the top two slots.

Then there’s senior captain Juliet Homes, the other half of the All-FCIAC doubles team with Neuner. Quin Wolters, another senior captain, and junior Elaina Cummisky, who teamed up at No. 2 doubles, are also back. So is the third doubles duo of sophomores Caroline Homes and Daniella Castellanos, who were impressive as freshmen a year ago.

The third senior captain, Annabelle Mueller, is also expected to be in the doubles mix, according to Brown.

The addition of two freshmen, a sophomore and a junior exchange student have also bolstered the Blue Wave lineup.

“They bring a lot of the team,” Brown said.

Darien opens the 2019 season next week with three matches in four days, starting with road trips to Bridgeport Central on Monday and Trumbull on Tuesday, before its home opener against Greenwich Thursday at 4 p.m.

And if you care to look ahead, the Blue Wave’s long-awaited showdown with Staples is set for April 30 in Westport.

“They’re currently our big rival,” Brown concluded. “I’m really excited for this year. We have a lot of talent and I think it’s going to be a really good year.”


"I’m really excited for this year. We have a lot of talent and I think it’s going to be a really good year.” — Darien head coach Anne-Lise Brown