Darien girls tennis turns page, looks to stay atop the FCIAC ladder
This spring, the Darien girls tennis team is looking forward to new beginnings.
For the past two years, after winning back-to-back FCIACs, the Wave has been disqualified from the state championship for using an ineligible player, a mistake coach Anne-Lise Brown said will not be repeated this year.
“The girls are all over each other to make sure it does not happen again,” Brown said.
The team also faces the loss to graduation of its most dominant player, Kateri Martin, who played No. 1 singles for four years, winning last year’s FCIAC MVP award and National High School Tennis All-American honors. Yet rather than view the loss as a negative, Brown said, Darien players have the chance to find out who they are as a team without their former standout.
“It is a real opportunity for our returning players to rise to the occasion,” said Brown, who is back to coach Darien for her third season.
“We need to redefine who we are in the post-Kateri era.”
While the Wave loses Martin, the rest of last year’s singles lineup returns. Junior Lilly Ma has played No. 2 singles for the past two years, going undefeated last season. Senior captains Emilia Callery, last year’s No. 3 singles, and Emily Neuner, last year’s four singles, are also back for the Wave.
Despite the return of the bulk of last year’s starters, however, Brown said that this year’s lineup is very much up for grabs at both singles and doubles.
“There are going to be more challenge matches to start,” she said. “I have not determined who will be the fourth singles player.”
At doubles, the Wave lost to graduation No. 1 doubles player Mia Dursht, No. 2 Susie Alptekin and No. 3 Hailey Zimmerman. Returning to the lineup are senior captain Daphne Gray, who played No. 1 with Dursht last year, as well as juniors Quinn Wolters and Juliet Holmes, who both also played at the No. 3 doubles spot, and sophomore Elaina Cummiskey, who last year lost in the state quarterfinals with partner Alptekin.
Gray is currently out with an injury, having had ACL surgery over Christmas. Brown expects she will be back by the end of the season, but her absence leaves uncertainty around the doubles lineup.
“We don’t have No. 1 or No. 2 doubles spots set at all yet,” Brown said.
In addition to the seven returners, the Wave adds eight new players. Juniors Chase Cleary and Annabelle Mueller, as well as sophomores Emma Mansourian and Abby Stravato, are moving up from last year’s junior varsity team. Also joining the team are freshmen Emily Wiley, Katie Wiley, Daniela Castellanos and Caroline Homes.
Brown expects the team to remain highly competitive, with its biggest rival once again being Staples High School in Westport, whom the Wave beat 4-3 in the FCIAC championship last year, after suffering their only loss to the Wreckers earlier in the season.
And that success includes a potential return to the state championship.
“This is an exciting time for girls tennis,” Brown said.