Amity girls tennis off to strong start, looks to keep a good thing going

Amity captains Maddie Keyes and Aditha Wijesekera flank coach Hal Freedman.

Amity captains Maddie Keyes and Aditha Wijesekera flank coach Hal Freedman.

Amity Athletics / Contributed photo

WOODBRIDGE — Hal Freedman has coached Amity girls’ tennis since 1976. This may be his best team.

“When we have a run going, we want to keep it going,” said Freedman, whose team dropped a 4-3 decision to Staples in last season’ Class LL title match. “We have a strong nucleus back from last year, especially with Kiley Pickens playing No. 1 and Bell Sicignano playing No. 2 singles.”

Pickens became Amity’s first singles champion at the state level when she won the first CIAC Girls Tennis Invitational singles crown, 6-3, 6-2. She placed first at No. 1 singles in Class LL to complete an unbeaten season.

Sicignano won No. 2 singles in Class LL in straight sets to finish unbeaten. She was All-SCC Division I.

Freedman, who has guided Amity to 20 division or league titles, stressed the importance of bringing in newcomers.

“We lost our No. 1 doubles team of Eesha Acharya and Sidney Pitter, but we have two quality freshmen picking up the slack,” he said. “Soumya Wijesekera is playing fourth singles and Scarlett Zhai is playing first doubles. Sometimes we go through droughts without quality players coming in. It seems that the Fairfield County schools have a constant flow.”

Having playing partners provide competition has helped Amity, currently ranked first in Class LL at 5-0.

Freedman said: “That is one of the keys to our success. We have four singles players that can push each other. At times I’ve had one outstanding player and she won’t get that much competition within the team. This year, last year, and I believe next season too, we are going to have players close enough in skill level that they can keep their teammates sharp through inter-squad play. That is true with our doubles teams as well.”

Senior Aditha Wijesekera plays No. 3 singles and freshman sister Soumya is at fourth singles. Junior Aadya Wijesekera has moved from third to first doubles, where she teams with Zhai. At No. 2 doubles are juniors Anushka Acharya and Kyah Harding.

Since players receive instruction for singles play from a young age, making up a doubles team can take convincing.

“Most of the time they are thinking singles,” Freedman said. “Doubles is something they have got to learn. Many times, their skills are better suited to doubles. You have got to convince them of that. We help form doubles teams by choosing complimentary skills. One person is a steady player. The other more aggressive, a shot maker. That is pretty much the case with our first two doubles teams. Our No. 3 doubles is Jaden Barretta and Karishma Bulsara have similar skills.”

Winning matches is a good carrot at the end of the stick.

“Usually, it is your doubles that is going to make or break the win for you. We had preseason scrimmages with Hopkins and Fairfield Ludlowe and doubles came through in good form,” Freedman said. “We won a close one, 4-3, against Hopkins and 5-2 with Ludlowe. Doubles play was significant. Once they get playing doubles, they get to enjoy it. Doubles players are talking to each other throughout. They tend to enjoy that social aspect of the game.”

Aditha Wijesekera and Maddie Keyes, “who help build a nice team culture,” are team captains.

Freedman said: “We’ve just gotten through teams in Division I of our SCC schedule. Teams are going to get better. We are going to play at Glastonbury (4-0) in a couple of weeks. We had played them in the past. Getting FCIAC schools are tough because they are locked into their league schedule.”

Is Amity fueled by last year’s success?

“It is sort of unfinished business, losing in the finals to Staples,” said Freedman, who is a reported 507-138 in his 40 years. “We’re not naïve enough to think that Staples (5-0), Darien (3-0), and the schools down in Fairfield County won’t have good squads this year. Our goal is to be ready for the challenge when it comes along.” Twitter: @blox354