NEW HAVEN — If the Hand tennis teams were going to go wire to wire in the Southern Connecticut Conference, it would have to be through Amity one more time.
The Spartans’ boys and girls teams stood in the way of not only undefeated seasons for both Hand teams, but also multiple league championships in succession. These are the premier league rivalries in the sport.
But Hand was able to withstand the tests. The boys went first, defeating the Spartans 7-0, followed by the girls 5-2 at Yale University’s Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center.
“I told them on the bus coming over, ‘This will be the toughest match you have ever played in,’” Hand coach Kitty Palmer said. “This is one of the best ones because Harold (Freedman, Amity’s coach) has such a good team and we probably should have lost the last time we played them (4-3 on April 30).”
For the Hand girls (20-0), it’s a three-peat. In this decade, Hand has seven titles — all against Amity. The Spartans have two against Hand while Lauralton Hall has the other (2015).
“They have an excellent program,” said Freedman, who is in his 43rd season.
Annie Barrett clinched this year’s title at No. 3 singles, defeating Adithi Wijesekera 6-1, 1-6, 6-2. The team has never lost a regular-season match — now at 53 straight — or a title during her career.
Palmer gave her a hug after the match. Barrett didn’t know until that hug her match clinched the championship.
“I was so happy to have won it for the team. I was very, very excited,” Barrett said. “It’s very motivating to know that I am fighting in the match to keep this record for the team.”
Said Palmer: “She did it for us her freshman year when we played Amity. We lost all our singles but Annie. She is used to pressure and she has come through time and time again for us. She has had a great career.”
The Tigers were able to win all three of its matches that went the full three sets. That included No. 1 singles, where Sam Riordan, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, bested Sarah Bullers 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.
Another one that went three sets was at No. 2 doubles — which came with a possible score discrepancy in the eighth game of the third set. Bella Vejar and Paige VanOstenbridge won the match 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 over Eesha Acharya and Gabby McGovern.
Palmer felt the final score was correct.
“At 4-3, the linesman discussed the score with all four girls and all agreed it was 4-3 (in favor of Hand),” Palmer explained. “Hand won the next game. Amity called the score 4-all (on the initial serve of the ninth game). When Amity won that game, they thought they were ahead 5-4, then Hand won the next game. The linesman had it right, the Hand girls had it right.”
Said Freedman: “There was a discrepancy and I’ll leave it at that. I don’t want to get into the details of the discrepancy because I’m not sure of the facts. It was a close match. It’s too bad it was decided in a controversial manner.”
Amity (18-3) won at No. 2 singles (Sydney Pitter over Lindsay Riordan 6-3, 7-6 (4) and No. 4 singles (Chloe Gherlone over Eileen Chen 7-6 (4), 6-0).
The Hand boys swept Amity during the regular season en route to 54 straight regular-season wins. The Tigers overpowered the Spartans again on Wednesday and have won three of the last four league titles — all over the Spartans
“This one today probably meant more because this team is very different with only two seniors,” Hand coach Dawn Fagerquist said. “The kids worked well together, rooted for each other and made it more enjoyable for me.”
Only one match went the distance: No. 4 singles, where David Levchenko beat Ben Schaffer 3-6, 6-4, 10-5.
“This season I had expectations going in. I knew we could win the SCCs,” said No, 1 singles player Josh Israel, the tournament MOP.
Amity had to rally from a 3-0 deficit to beat Fairfield Prep in the semifinals on Tuesday.
“We tried to do what we could, hydrate and regroup but Hand’s really good,” Amity coach Chris Raffone said. “I’ve never had a season like this, where we lost to three teams in the beginning of year (Xavier, Guilford and Prep) and beat them at the end of the year.”
Raffone, who reached his 12th SCC final in 14 seasons as coach, noted the play of No. 2 singles player Chris Bullers, an important cog in the Spartans’ late-season resurgence.
“I’ve never had a player in all my 14 years improve from one year to the next as much as he has,” Raffone said. “This is the most proud I’ve been as a coach to see how far our team has come. So today, it hurts, but I will definitely take a lot from this year with how far we came.”