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    Saturday, July 20, 2024

    The Day’s All-Area Girls’ Tennis Player of the Year: Waterford’s Sarah Hage

    Waterford High School senior Sarah Hage was named The Day’s 2024 All-Area Girls’ Tennis Player of the Year. Hage won her fourth straight Eastern Connecticut Conference singles championship, beating Stonington’s Grace Duggan 6-1, 6-2 on May 22, and earned CHSCA all-state honors for the fourth time, as well, after reaching the semifinals of the prestigious CIAC Invitational. (Dana Jensen/The Day).
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    Waterford’s Sarah Hage, second from left, is mobbed by her teammates after winning the ECC singles championship May 22 at Stonington High School, a celebration which became somewhat of a tradition. Hage graduated with a career record of 96-4 with four ECC titles, four all-state selections and for the fourth time has been named The Day’s All-Area Girls’ Tennis Player of the Year. (Dana Jensen/The Day).
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    Sarah Hage is the girl Waterford High School coach Ed Kolnaski has seen practicing on the school’s outdoor tennis courts with her mother Amale, sometimes in the middle of winter, when Hage has simply donned gloves and a ski hat to protect herself against the chill.

    She’s the one he has seen mobbed by her teammates after every Eastern Connecticut Conference singles championship, four straight, the fellow Lancers who always formed Hage’s steadfast cheering section.

    And then it was June 3, the quarterfinals of the CIAC Invitational girls’ tennis tournament, with players from all divisions thrown into a 64-person draw, and Hage had just made the semifinals by beating the No. 2 seed, Sarah Donnelly of Darien.

    “When she made it to the semis by beating the No. 1 girl from Darien, that just solidified everything how good she was,” Kolnaski was saying recently. “When she beat the girl from Darien, I was driving back and calling people saying, ‘She beat the girl!’

    “... She went out and hit the best I’ve seen her hit. It was a great way to have it end. After her freshman year, the target was on her back the last three seasons. We always told her, ‘Just prepare.’ As long as you’re prepared ...”

    Hage was named The Day’s 2024 All-Area Girls’ Tennis Player of the Year, her fourth such honor. She capped her fourth straight unbeaten regular season and followed that with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Stonington’s Grace Duggan for her fourth straight Eastern Connecticut Conference championship.

    A four-time Connecticut High School Coaches’ Association all-state selection, Hage finished her career 96-4. She was also named the ECC Player of the Year.

    “I don’t really know how I did it,” Hage said, asked to reflect. “Those big moments I kind of think about, it’s kind of crazy. I tried not to be nervous, tried not to let nerves take away the fun of it. You feel like you have to perform a certain way but you try to enjoy it.”

    “Honestly, it’s been a joy the past four years,” Kolnaski said. “She came and she worked hard all the time. The team loved her. Just a great kid that’s been so much fun to coach her. ...

    “I remember coaching basketball (at Waterford) and I’d come out and there’d be this little 8-year-old all bundled up (practicing outside). That’s the great part of the story. It’s because of how hard she worked. Her and her mom did it. That’s what’s so nice about the whole story. She’s very well-grounded. The times we won close matches, that comes from being prepared.”

    Hage was coached throughout her career by her mother. Amale was the top-ranked women’s tennis player in Lebanon from 1998-2000 before her arrival in the United States.

    Sarah began her ECC championship reign as a freshman, beating defending champion Maddie Hamm of Stonington in a 3-hour, 16-minute epic, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. Hage trailed 4-1 in the third set. She faced Hamm again as a sophomore, winning the ECC final 6-1, 6-4.

    The last two seasons she’s met Duggan, a powerful presence at 5 feet, 11 inches, who began the 2023 ECC final by promptly winning the opening set against the 5-foot-1 Hage. Hage broke a string on her main racket in the first set and needed the grip on her backup racket replaced prior to the second set. Hage rallied to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

    “I feel like I changed a lot since freshman year,” Hage said. “I’ve become a lot more confident. Sometimes people lose the first set and people see that anger and sadness snowball into a second set. If you lose the first set, it’s OK. I’ve proved to myself it’s always possible to come back.

    “I’ve definitely become wiser as a player. I’ve played so many matches. I’ve played so many different people. You develop a lot more strategy.”

    Hage, who accumulated a 4.24 grade-point average at Waterford, a member of the National Honor Society, as well as the French and Spanish National Honor Societies, will attend UConn. She plans to major in something related to health and wellness, perhaps nutrition, and has received a number of scholarships within the community.

    Hage is not sure whether it’s possible for her to play tennis at the varsity level at UConn. If not, she’ll find a club team.

    “I’m not going to stop playing. It definitely meant so much. It will be a lifelong sport for me,” she said, before expressing her gratitude to Amale.

    “... Without her I wouldn’t have been able to do all that. We’ve both had some times where we get mad at each other; that’s normal. But the hard work she put in, the time and energy, that means so much.

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

    The Day’s 2024 All-Area Girls’ Tennis Team

    Player of the Year - Sarah Hage (Waterford)

    Singles

    Grace Duggan (Stonington)

    Marcella Hamm (Stonington)

    Julia Mielguj (Fitch)

    Elaina Morosky (Old Lyme)

    Valentina Schiano (East Lyme)

    Katherine Zhang (Old Lyme)

    Doubles

    Aggie Hunt-Beatrice Hunt (Old Lyme)

    Katya Snegovskikh-Lauren Buckley (Stonington)

    Gwen McGugan-Angelina Williams (Stonington)

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