Preseason one-on-one challenge spurs unbeaten Law

Lucia Pino earned All-State as a freshman. She is 10-0 at No. 1 singles as a junior.

Lucia Pino earned All-State as a freshman. She is 10-0 at No. 1 singles as a junior.

Law Athletics / Contributed photo

Law girls’ tennis coach Chris Kulenych watched as his player volleyed. It was week into practice. He could see they were getting bored. Kulenych decided to up the ante.

“I told them to challenge each other to play singles matches. I had the jayvee players challenge varsity. And mixed up singles and doubles. The switch was instantaneous,” he said. “They went after it. They talked some trash. They laughed. They cheered. Most of all they competed.”

Law is the top-seed in Class M at 10-0. It has qualified for states four of the last five seasons. They advanced one round in 2019.

Lucia Pino, the first Law freshman to earn All-State, is 10-0 at No. 1 singles as a junior.

“We are strong through the lineup and each of us benefits the other every match,” she said. “I was nervous at first. I didn’t know many of my teammates. We got along right away. We became a team that first day.”

Pino liked the preseason challenge match.

“That got us competing against each other. It got our blood going. It allowed everyone to show their personality and give it all they had,” she said.

Senior Jenna Bagdasrian is 9-1 at third singles.

“It is nice walking into a match knowing if we play our best we can win. We put our all into every match,” said Bagdasrian, team captain with Pino. “There has been a huge improvement, especially from our freshmen.”

Bagdasrian was thrown to the wolves her first year in 2018. Eight seniors had graduated. She began the season at No. 2 singles.

She said: “It was strange. I made states and had to play a senior who was like No. 1 from this crazy good school. It didn’t go that well. I was happy to be there. Now as a team we are insanely good. I’m proud of us.”

Sophomore Samantha Burns 7-3 at second singles. Junior Diya Daruka is 9-1 in the No. 4 spot. Leading in doubles are sophomores Sabrina Lawless and Caroline Doyle 9-1, juniors Sophie Maselli and Nihitha Kothapalli 9-1 and freshmen Olivia Hudak and Isabella Gecaj 10-0.

Kulenych in his 14th season played tennis four seasons at Foran. He didn’t expect this type of success.

“We had five returning kids from two years ago. I didn’t know what to expect. We have only one senior with Jenna and a ton of freshmen and sophomores,” he said. “As a coach, you like to have a resume, pieces that fit into your lineup. I didn’t know if that would happen. It has really clicked. This is the most competitive group I’ve coached. They hate to lose. That has propelled us this season.”

Seven games remain on the schedule before the Class M opening round is held at the higher seed on May 28. Hand, winners in 2019 and 2017, has moved to Class L where they are 10-0. Law is followed in M by Ellington 7-0, Weston 9-1, Watertown 8-1, Wolcott 8-1, and Barlow 7-1. Barlow won the title in 2018.

With a year between seasons, it was hard to determine where the top teams would emerge. Law has swept each match except 5-2 decisions with M rival Sheehan (9-2) and Class L Lyman Hall (6-5) and Branford (7-3).

Now that Law has staked its claim, Kulenych said his players must stay prepared.

“I told the team that we are at the top of the food chain right now. We are going to get everyone’s best shot the second time around,” he said. “The goal is to replicate what we did the first half of the year. We can’t be comfortable. We are happy but not satisfied.”

“We’ve never hosted a state first-round match and we are hoping to do that,” he said. “The next hurdle is to win two matches in states as a team and see where we go from there.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354