The Day's All-Area Girls' Tennis Player of the Year: Stonington's Gabby Dellacono

It’s an odd thing for Gabby Dellacono to be talking about … losing. She’s done it so rarely in her two years at Stonington High School, both seasons in which she raced untouched to an Eastern Connecticut Conference singles title.

But here is Dellacono on the perspective a loss can bring:

“I feel like losing teaches me more,” she said. “If I lose to someone, I want to play them the next tournament and beat them. See what you do wrong, what you could do better.”

Dellacono, a sophomore, is The Day’s 2017 All-Area Girls’ Tennis Player of the Year. She earned that distinction for the second straight season to go with her second consecutive ECC title and a trip to the State Open championship match on stadium court at the Connecticut Tennis Center, the first Stonington player to reach that pinnacle.

Dellacono was undefeated until falling to Weston senior Cayla Koch in the semifinals of the Class S state team tournament, May 31, a match contested at Mystic Indoor Sports. Then came what was likely Dellacono’s most gratifying moment of the season: revenge.

She was nervous during her 6-3, 6-1 loss to Koch — a Division I recruit headed to play tennis at Bucknell  — in the relative silence of the indoor tennis center. Stonington lost to Weston, the eventual Class S champion, 4-3.

“Like, ‘Oh, my God.’ I knew exactly what I should have done,” Dellacono said. “I was trying too hard. I would shank balls to the curtain. It wasn’t even hot in there and I was drenched in sweat. … I was really impatient. She has a really good backhand and I kept hitting it to her backhand. I should have hit more deep balls. I wanted to see if I could improve.”

The next move belonged to Dellacono, the No. 6 seed in the State Open.

Dellacono beat No. 11 Natalie Ivanov of Wilton 6-0, 6-0 in the third round and completed an upset of No. 3 Alyssa DiMaio of Staples, 6-0, 6-4 in the quarterfinals to earn another shot at Koch in the semifinals. Dellacono, up 5-4, broke DiMaio to win the match.

The following day, Dellacono upset the second-seeded Koch 6-2, 6-3 to reach the final. She noted afterward that longtime Stonington coach George Crouse wept, nearly making her cry, too.

“It was payback and I was very proud of her. I was basically so proud of her and proud of every other girl from Stonington,” Crouse said of his emotions. “She was top shelf, on fire, whatever superlatives you want to use.”

“I won the last point and it was like, ‘Did this just happen?’” Dellacono said. “’What is happening?’”

Dellacono fell in the championship match against defending champion Lexi DeNucci of Glastonbury, 6-1, 6-3, with DeNucci  — headed to play next year at Villanova  — hitting a series of high, looping balls to keep Dellacono off balance. Once again, it’s a match Dellacono wishes she could have another shot at winning.

“She can change up things. That’s why she’s champion,” said Dellacono, who had no time to prep for the match, playing it the day following the semifinal. “She’s an amazing player. She can hit it soft, hard, with a lot of spins. During the match, I thought, ‘hit those on the rise.’ They were hard to time. Should I back up? Go in on it?”

Dellacono, who is 5-foot-8, has enjoyed the learning curve, if not the losses.

She is ranked 12th in New England in the USTA Girls’ 16 Singles bracket in her first year moving up from the 14s. She is ranked sixth in doubles and, along with partner Sam Falcon of Stamford, will play in the national doubles tournament later this summer.

She considers it her best season, including a new forehand that she agonized over.

“Last year I was playing in the 14s and I was in the mid-20 range for awhile. In the 16s, I’m all the way down to 11 or 12. I’ve improved much more than last year. I formed a new forehand and made it my own. I didn’t like it for about a year and it ends up being my best shot. There was lots of frustration involved. … I’ve had a lot of wins. This is my best year yet.”

Despite the frustrations, Dellacono, who makes the hour and a half trip nearly every day to practice with her private coach, said she loves what she’s doing. She hopes to play tennis in college and become involved in the medical field, perhaps as a medical examiner.

“Loving tennis is what motivates you to want to practice more. Loving it is a big thing of tennis,” Dellacono said. “I’d love to play in college. It’s part of my heart.”

Stonington was 17-1 overall this year with an ECC Division II championship. Dellacono topped teammate Charlotte Johnstone for the league’s singles title. Dellacono said the high school team’s overall success and the friendships she’s formed serves to boost her confidence.

“All the girls came to surprise her (at the State Open),” Crouse said. “They’re there to support her. They all had smiles on their faces. ... Last year (for Dellacono), it was just hit the ball. If it came back, OK. Now it’s do something with the ball, set up your points. She’s matured."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

 

The Day's 2017 All-Area Girls' Tennis Team

Player of the Year - Gabby Dellacono (Stonington)

Singles

Michaela Abate (St. Bernard)

Keelin Hurtt (Old Lyme)

Charlotte Johnstone (Stonington)

Laura Krick (Fitch)

Alaina Moger (Waterford)

Doubles

Hannah Middleton-Krancberg-Brielle Fratoni-Jaskiewicz (Stonington)

Stacey Tasoulas-Catherine Yao (Waterford)

Phoebe Townsend-Holly Foster (Stonington)

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