Hornets playing with passion in the field

By By Dan Fappiano • 05/16/2022 2:20 PM EST • Last Updated 05/16/2022 2:22 PM

Returning to the role of women’s tennis coach at Branford after 20 years, Dave Gruendel understood that there would be a transition period for the program this year. However, the Hornets came to the field ready to compete in 2022 and displayed that enthusiasm by winning four of their five games last week.

Branford picked up wins over Shelton, Career, Sheehan and East Haven to go with a loss to Jonathan Law in last week’s contests. The Hornets improved their record to 11-2 with four games remaining in the regular season this spring.

“I knew we were coming to the end of the season, we were going to have some of those weeks. We just needed to play the way we played,” coach Gruendel said. “The girls really took the opportunity. It was a wonderful thing to see.

Branford picked up a 7-0 win at home to Shelton in their first game of the week on May 9. Freshman Peyton Gaudreau posted a 6-0 shutout, 6-0 in first place singles for the Hornets; while junior Evelyn Mollow prevailed by that same scoreline in singles match No. 2. Junior Leila Omeragic took a 6-1, 6-0 win for third overall in singles; and senior captain Juliana Torello won 6-2, 6-4 for fourth in singles.

Branford’s No. 1 doubles team of senior Celina Shrestha and junior Evie Kaiser took a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 win. The No. 2 duo of senior captain Zaide Schlesinger and junior scout Engstrom earned a 6-3, 6-4 win; and the No. 3 team of senior Tiffanie Ly and rookie Erin Newlan triumphed 6-0, 6-1.

The next day, the Hornets picked up a 7-0 road win over Career. Gaudreau (6-0, 6-0), Ly (6-0, 6-1), junior Dominque Smith (6-0, 6-0) and Newlan (6-0, 6-0) all won the singles matches for Branford. The Hornets’ No. 1 doubles team of junior Olivia Torello and sophomore Ellie Wieland cruised to a 6-0, 6-0 victory.

Branford went on to defeat Sheehan 5-2 in an away match on May 11. Gaudreau and Mollow earned 6-0 and 6-0 wins in the top two singles matches. Doubles duos Torello and Kaiser (6-2, 6-3), Scheslinger and Engstrom (6-4, 6-1) and Ly and Newlan (6-3, 6-2) all won their matches in straight sets . .

On May 13, Branford hosted Jonathan Law and suffered a 5-2 loss to the Eagles. Gaudreau picked up a 6-7 (6-8), 6-1, 6-3 victory in first place in singles for the Hornets. Mollow won a 6-0, 6-1 singles decision at No. 2.

While their match against Law marked Branford’s only loss of the week, coach Gruendel said Gaudreau’s first-place singles win was one of the team’s best performances this season. The Hornets had already lost the game, but when the rookie took the win in straight sets, everyone in the team stood up and celebrated, showing Gruendel the type of character that permeates his club.

“Peyton was one of the last games played. She was playing one of the best No. 1 girls in the whole conference,” Gruendel said. “When she won, our whole team cheered like we won everything. the game. At that time, we had lost the game. Hearing our team applaud our number 1 as if we had won everything was absolutely brilliant.

The following day, the Hornets posted a 7-0 shutout against East Haven in a home game. Gaudreau (8-0), Mollow (8-0), Shrestha (8-4) and sophomore Ella Kelly (8-6) all won their singles matches. Branford’s doubles teams of Torello-Kaiser (8-1), Schlesinger-Engstrom (8-4) and Ly-Newlan (8-0) were also victorious.

Branford now has 11 wins after his strong showing on the court last week. Facing tough CSC Tier 2 competition, Coach Gruendel was impressed with how his team fought on while playing five games in six days.

“I don’t know if there are words to express how proud I am of this team as a whole. We played some really good games against good Tier 2 teams,” Gruendel said. “I’m glad we played against them at the end of the year because we’re really starting to get in shape.”

Although Gruendel is happy to coach the Hornets this season, he never expected to play the role. Jim Cole, who had coached the women’s tennis team for the past few years, died in January. After the team met with sporting director Tom Ermini, Omeragic, who had Gruendel as a teacher, asked if he would be interested in taking on the role.

Gruendel had previously coached the boys’ and girls’ tennis teams at Branford, completing a four-year stint as the girls’ head coach in 2000. He decided to apply and felt lucky when he was named coach. -head of Branford. Gruendel said everyone on the team welcomed him with open arms and was delighted to see such a strong bond between all the players on the Hornets roster.

“They really went with the flow. Each time new leadership arrives, there is a transition. I am very grateful that this team accepted me as a coach,” said Gruendel. “It’s a wonderful group of young girls. They play hard. They know when to be serious and when to be goofy. They have a good balance. »

As they close out the regular season, the Hornets have put themselves in good stead for success in both SCCs and States this spring. Along with racking up the wins, Coach Gruendel is proud to see so much passion in a program filled with athletes who enjoy spending time together on and off the field.

“It’s a team that I think doesn’t realize how good they are. When they play, they play with a spirit that’s just fun to watch,” Gruendel said. “They roll with everything. go out there, they play hard. When they do, they look at each other, wonder what they could do differently, then smile. That’s all I could have hoped for. It’s not just the times on the pitch, but those are the moments off the pitch that we all have fun with.

Branford’s women’s tennis team includes senior captains Zaide Schlesinger and Juliana Torello; seniors Reese Inzero, Tiffanie Ly and Celina Shrestha; juniors Scout Engstrom, Evie Kaiser, Evelyn Mollow, Leila Omeragic, Dominique Smith and Olivia Torello; sophomores Isabella Kelly, Allison McCarthy and Ellie Wieland; and freshmen Jenna Acquarulo, Peyton Gaudreau, Erin Newlan and Lynka Orosz.