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    Monday, February 26, 2024

    Stonington captures Class M girls' tennis title, topping Hand 6-1

    Stonington seniors (from left) Grace Milne, Maddie Hamm, Katie Johnstone, Erin Motherway and Mia Lewandowski pose with head coach George Crouse after defeating Hand 6-1 in Saturday's CIAC Class M girls' tennis championship at Wesleyan University in Middletown. (Photo by Vickie Fulkerson/The Day)
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    Middletown — One day prior, Stonington met its longstanding state tournament nemesis Weston in the semifinals and won to earn the right to play Saturday for the Class M girls' tennis state championship.

    There was not much, at that point, that could halt the top-seeded Bears' momentum.

    "I've got to give credit to the girls because yesterday's match, everybody just went all out and they were exhausted at the end, including me," Stonington coach George Crouse said. "We were very tired. It was a stressful and hardfought match yesterday."

    Stonington defeated No. 15 Hand 6-1 for the title at Wesleyan University, getting a singles sweep from Maddie Hamm, Grace Duggan, Maddie Gonzalez and Mia Lewandowski, all in straight sets, to finish the season 19-1.

    The No. 3 doubles team of Marcella Hamm and Lauren Buckley clinched the victory with their win and the No. 1 doubles team of Katie Johnstone and Katya Snegovskikh also added a win. The No. 2 doubles tandem of Erin Motherway and Emily Fulling lost to Hand, but clinched the dramatic, 5-2 semifinal victory Friday against Weston.

    It was Stonington's first championship since 2013. The Bears have been to the final 11 times since 2002, including eight straight appearances from 2006-13, and lost to Weston in the final seven times. Stonington's last state championship appearance came in 2018, a 4-3 loss to Weston.

    "I'm so excited. I'm so proud of the team, every single person. I'm so proud of everybody and all the wins we got," said Hamm, a senior headed to play next year at Holy Cross, who endured some heckling Friday from an overzealous Weston fan. "There was a little bit of commotion yesterday so that kind of fired me up and I was ready for today.

    "My senior year, finishing off with this, is like a dream."

    Hamm defeated Hand's Claire Langille at No. 1 singles 6-2, 6-3. Stonington's other seniors are Lewandowski, Johnstone, Motherway and the injured Grace Milne.

    Johnstone and Snegovskikh avenged a regular-season loss to Hand's Breanna Colonese-DiBello and Zhu Zhu Berger, a 6-2, 6-3 victory which brought Snegovskikh to tears as she walked off the court to hugs from a receiving line of teammates.

    "I just remember how hard and how much we wanted it last time. We played so hard," Snegovskikh said. "It was very close (the first time), it was 4-6, 6-2, 5-7 and I just remember how badly we wanted to beat them and how hard we were trying. ... We just came here to fight and and we came here to do our best and show everyone what we can do."

    "It's pretty surreal," Johnstone said of the championship. "It was kind of nervewracking. We got here and we were kind of nervous at first. I looked at Katya and I was like, 'We've got to go out there and we've got to do our best.' It's very exciting to win, to finish with a bang."

    Stonington's previous 10 state championship appearances were all in Class S.

    "In the S, they got rid of the two that sort of got to the end, Weston and Stonington," Crouse said. "We're always playing each other."

    Crouse said his team was so low-maintenance, he didn't have to give the players any kind of a pep talk Saturday. In fact, the doubles teams started play after the singles had already begun — after additional courts were free at Wesleyan — and Crouse didn't know they started.

    "Maybe it was better I left them alone because all I did was make them nervous," Crouse said, smiling. "It's very stressful because you have a good team and you know you have a good team and when they perform like this, I'm saying to myself, 'Well, what did you worry about?'

    "I'm very proud of these kids because they did it. ... Your team championship stays with you forever. You're part of something great that happened in high school. I'm so glad for my girls."


    Stonington girls' tennis coach George Crouse prepares to place a championship medal around the neck of senior and No. 1 singles player Maddie Hamm after the Bears defeated Hand 6-1 in Saturday's Class M state championship match at Wesleyan University in Middletown (Photo by Vickie Fulkerson/The Day)
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