Last spring saw Bill Previdi return to coaching the Branford girls’ tennis program he helped build years ago and the campaign was admittedly a getting-to-know-you process that saw the team win just five matches. But despite these struggles, Previdi felt his Hornets began to establish the foundation that will return them to being perennial postseason contenders after having missed the state tournament the last two seasons.
As the spring of 2013 nears its halfway point, Previdi feels positive about the way his program is progressing, something exemplified by how Branford gave a solid Foran team all it could handle in a 4-3 defeat on April 17. Now owning a record of 3-5, the Hornets are well on their way to surpassing last spring’s win total and can get back to states by taking ix of their final nine matches.
“It’s exciting to change the culture of the program as we’re trying to get back to being a team where people come and go, but always leave a part of themselves behind,” said Previdi, whose Hornets went 210-38 and won the Class M state title in 1989 during his first tenure, after which he coached the boys’ team for five years. “I’m very pleased with the way it’s going so far. Our core values are conditioning, effort, and consistency and we are getting there. And besides all of those things, our goal is to get back to the state tournament. That used to be a given for the program and I want it to be again.”
Branford’s three victories have come against East Haven, West Haven, and Sacred Heart Academy. Last week, the Hornets took a 7-0 home loss to defending Class M champion Hand, the 4-3 home defeat against Foran, and then a 5-2 loss at another top SCC squad in North Haven.
Coach Previdi was thrilled by some performances against Foran, a match that was tied 3-all before the Lions won the final duel. In that contest, junior and No. 1 singles player Julia Watsky claimed her match 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, rallying from a 4-1 deficit in the third set. Branford also received victories from its No. 4 singles player in junior Tally Sepot, who won 6-1, 6-1; plus its No. 3 doubles duo of juniors Maria Quagliano and Jackie Wells, who came away with a 6-3, 6-4 victory. Previdi discussed the strong showings in all three victories.
“Julia needed a signature win and she got it against Foran’s Naagma Timakondy, who is a really good player. Julia took some lumps last year, but has really emerged this year and I was really excited for her because she works so hard,” said Previdi, who’s assisted by his son Chris Previdi. “Tally is a player who never loses to the people she should beat and now the goal is to get her to do better against the people who she could beat. For Maria and Jackie, this was the best match they’ve played all season. They’ve both improved a lot since year and it wasn’t showing in the results until this match. They complement each other well and have now established their identity.”
Then in the North Haven match, Quagliano and Wells notched a 6-3, 6-4 victory and the Hornets also received a 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 10-6 win from their No. 2 doubles duo of senior captain Kathryn Collins and freshman Rachel Krug. Collins captains Branford with fellow seniors Zhanneta Khoultchaeva, who plays No. 2 singles, and Kayleen Kessler, with whom Collins played No. 1 doubles last year before Kessler was paired with junior Jocelyn Giordano at the top spot this season.
Previdi was quite complimentary of the job his trio of captains have done in leading the team this spring, specifically noting the way Collins guided her freshman teammate in notching a nail-biting three-set win against North Haven.
“Kathryn and Kayleen played doubles together last year, but we felt we could win more matches if we split them up and they’ve both done a great job of leading their younger teammates by embracing it and being selfless,” said Previdi, whose starting lineup also features freshman Ellie Bloomquist at No. 4 singles. “And Zhanneta has been our rock this season. All of her matches take a long time because she grinds them out and then she supports our underclassmen by playing ghost matches with them after she’s done. That’s an example of a great leader.”