Apr. 24—STONINGTON — Sarah Hage’s speaking voice is just above a whisper, especially while being interviewed when wearing a mask. On the court, Hage, a Waterford High School freshman and the Lancers’ No. 1 singles player, tends to make more of a statement.
On Friday, Hage fought off a swirling wind which made things difficult all around to beat Stonington No. 1 Maddie Hamm, the defending Eastern Connecticut Conference champion, by a 7-5, 6-0 margin, using the victory in an hour-long hard-fought first set as momentum going into the second.
That also served as the catalyst for a 4-3 Waterford team victory over Stonington in an ECC Division I faceoff, Waterford’s first victory over the Bears since 2014. Stonington has won five straight ECC divisional titles and 13 of the last 14.
“She was very, very consistent,” Hage said of Hamm, a junior who won the ECC as a freshman in 2019 before the cancellation of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. “It was really hard for me to hit a winner. I had to try to be consistent as well.
“I’d definitely say I was a little nervous. There was less pressure on me, but I was still trying to win.”
Waterford also got victories from Autumn Brothers at No. 2 singles and from the doubles teams of Jen LeBlanc and Michelle Liu at No. 1 and Nitya and Nidhi Somineni at No. 2. LeBlanc, a senior, and Liu, a freshman, clinched the team win, capturing Waterford’s fourth point in a third-set tiebreaker with most of the other members of both teams watching.
“I did not tell them. Are you kidding me?” Waterford coach Ed Kolnaski said of whether his No. 1 doubles team was aware of the stakes.
“We noticed that more people were coming over here,” LeBlanc said. “We didn’t know how the other matches went. … We haven’t beaten Stonington in years. I’m very proud of my teammates. They’re all great people.”
Hage, whose brother Fadi, a 2020 graduate, was formerly the No. 1 player for the Waterford boys’ team and had predicted his sister’s future success, led 5-3 in the first set against Hamm. Hamm showed some aggression, however, coming to the net to hit a passing shot against Hage to pull within 5-4 and making it 5-5 when Hage double-faulted twice with the wind making it tough to control her powerful first serve.
Hage went up 6-5, winning a dramatic rally to lead 15-30 with Hamm serving, and took the final game to go up a set.
There was a break between sets with Hamm getting treatment for a cut on her leg and Hamm played relatively well in the second set, with several games extended to deuce.
“All the games in the second set were close,” said Hamm, who was dealt the first loss of her high school career within the ECC. “She just found a couple extra points every time and that’s what makes people better players. … She hits hard. She attacks the ball when she can. I think I just wanted to play my best game. I enjoyed the match. I’m excited to play her again. I’m excited to see.
“I’m a little disappointed. I almost wish I had lost one my freshman year. It’s tough not to live up to my freshman self.”
Stonington coach George Crouse said his inexperienced team (1-1, 1-1) showed some nerves.
“They’re not used to the pressure after (a year off),” Crouse said. “(Kolnaski) did a good job. They were very loose.”
“We have a lot of young ones this year,” said Kolnaski, whose team is 4-1 overall and in the ECC. “But we also have a solid group of seniors that I’m glad they could play this year. They missed out last year.”