WILTON -- Going two straight seasons without a championship isn't a long drought, but it seemed like one for a Greenwich High School girls tennis team that was the FCIAC champion from 2007-09.
Losing to rival New Canaan in the league final the past two seasons also made the brief dry spell seem a bit longer for Greenwich, but the Cardinals emphatically ended the streak Thursday.
In the annual Greenwich-New Canaan showdown also known as the FCIAC finals, the Cardinals had the final say. Top-seeded and undefeated Greenwich halted second-seeded New Canaan's two-year reign as FCIAC champions, registering an impressive 5-2 victory in the title match at Wilton High School.
Thursday marked the seventh consecutive year the Cardinals and Rams dueled for the league title, with Greenwich taking a 4-3 lead in the series.
"It's real rewarding to beat them, especially since they beat us the past two years," said Cardinals junior Jenn DeLuca, who continued her undefeated season at first singles. "It feels awesome to be on a team that won the FCIAC title. Now we're looking forward to states and possibly meeting them again."
Greenwich, which has won 12 league championships, received singles victories from DeLuca, Claudia Kesala, Samantha Stone and Danielle Cepelewicz and a crucial doubles win from Anna Daccache and Mathilde van Tulder.
"I think the hardest thing to do is to win the FCIAC title," said GHS coach Betsy Underhill, who has guided the Cards to seven league championships during her 16 seasons at the helm. "There are so many tough teams and so many tough matches that take place in our league, so be on top of it feels great."
The Rams (17-2), who dropped a 5-2 decision to the Cardinals (19-0) on April 19, had the edge in doubles competition, getting wins from the duo of Sarah Greene and Kristin Laub at No. 1 and Phoebe Wilks/Amanda Merijian at the second spot.
"I hope our team realizes what a success they have been this season," New Canaan coach Erin Gildea said. "It was looking bleak there for a little bit, but we improved on our first match with them. Our girls fought until the end."
Leading 3-2 in the match, the Cardinals secured the victory when Daccache and van Tulder pulled out a 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 win against Tyler Kendall and Sara Lovejoy.
The Cardinals' duo held serve to go ahead 5-3 in the third set, but New Canaan held, forcing deuce point three times the ensuing game. van Tulder's volley at the net gave Greenwich its fourth victory in the match, and the FCIAC title.
"That was the most nerve wracking moment ever," van Tulder said. "I just concentrated on not losing my focus, tried to stay calm and made sure it went in."
The tandem has been a pleasant surprise to the Cardinals, winning the majority of their matches.
"I had one word going through my head the entire time and it was win," Daccache said. "We both put our heart and soul into this and all season we've been playing off each other's strengths. When we were down, we stayed confident."
Stone, a junior, gave Greenwich its first win, recording a 6-0, 6-2 win over Emily Brand at third singles.
"I was fired up to do my part for the team," Stone said. "This was my second time in the FCIAC finals, so beating New Canaan has a nice sentimental value."
Undefeated in singles play this season, the Cardinals saw DeLuca post another straight-set victory, defeating Courtney Gallagher at No. 1, 6-3, 6-1. Holding serve, then converting a pair of break points, DeLuca took a 3-0 edge in the first set.
"Taking an early lead definitely helped," DeLuca said. "I just tried to keep the ball in because she was a tough player and was gaining momentum."
Said Gallagher: "Jenn's a great opponent and she's very consistent. There were long points in the match though and overall, I thought the points were very even."
Sophomore Claudia Kesala kept her perfect season at second singles going for the Cards, topping Jensen Lee, 6-1, 6-1. Senior Danielle Cepelewicz notched a 4-6, 6-0 win against New Canaan's Kate Howard at fourth singles, as Howard had to retire after the second set due to a leg injury. For senior captain Audrey Villemure and Cepelewicz, Thursday's triumph was especially sweet.
"We have all really stepped up our game this year," Cepelewicz said. "I won the title my freshman year, but not the last two years, so it's nice for us to get it back."
"It's a great feeling, we haven't won the three years I've been here and this year we worked the hardest we could to get it," Villemure said. "Our young players have really shown what great players they are."
Laub and Greene, who are undefeated at first doubles, beat Villemure and Julia Akerman, 6-2, 6-1. The duo was named the FCIAC's MVP's after the match.
"Sarah and I immediately clicked this year," Laub said. "She is real good in the backcourt and I am good at volleys, so our styles complement each other. We always have so much fun out there."
The Cardinals and Rams will compete in the upcoming Class L Tournament and don't be surprised if they meet once again.
"If we get to the finals, maybe we'll see them," Gildea said. "It's going to be a tough road though. There are a lot of good teams out there."
Greenwich 5, new canaan 2
Singles: Jenn DeLuca (G) def. Courtney Gallagher 6-3, 6-1; Claudia Kesala (G) def. Jensen Lee 6-1, 6-1; Samantha Stone (G) def. Emily Brand 6-0, 6-2; Danielle Cepelewicz (G) def. Kate Howard 4-6, 6-0. Doubles: Sarah Greene/Kristin Laub (NC) def. Audrey Villemure/Julia Akerman 6-2, 6-1; Phoebe Wilks/Amanda Merijian (NC) def. Julia Hyland/Mary Cecio 7-5, 6-1; Anna Daccache/Mathilde van Tulder (G) def. Tyler Kendall/Sara Lovejoy 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.