By Danny Atkinson
OLD SAYBROOK – As a freshman, Coginchaug’s Piper Remillard proved she was the best tennis player in the Shoreline Conference. As a sophomore, she has only gotten better.
Tuesday’s Shoreline Conference singles championship was the culmination of everything Remillard has worked toward. The top seed easily defeated fifth-seeded Samantha Tan of Old Lyme 6-0, 6-1 in the 1 vs. 2 draw of the semifinals, and while second-seeded Julia Farnoli of Westbrook gave Remillard a tough fight early, she quickly took control of the match and won 6-2, 6-1 to defend her title.
“This year there was more pressure on me to win the championship again, so being able to fulfill the expectations I put upon myself was really cool to do. Repeating as champion was awesome,” Remillard said.
Remillard, who went 16-0 in regular season play, remains undefeated during her career in conference play. She will now test herself against the state’s toughest players in the CIAC singles tournament, which begins on June 6.
After defeating Tan in just over half an hour in the semifinals, which began at noon, Remillard had to wait more than three hours to face Farnoli, who outlasted Old Lyme’s Abigail Sicuranza to win an epic match 6-1, 3-6, 7-5.
Remillard said that she watched some of this semifinal to prepare for whom she would play while relaxing with coaches and teammates to remain calm. Remillard’s method worked, as she would jump out to a lead in the first set against Farnoli and establish superiority over the course of it.
Remillard immediately displayed her aggressiveness and high-quality forehand in the final. After uncharacteristically struggling with her serving and accuracy in the second game to help Farnoli tie the first set 1-1, Remillard won four consecutive games to go up 5-1 and seize control for the remainder of the finals.
During this streak, she won 15 of 20 points while showcasing her powerful serve and forehand and ability to catch Farnoli playing too far back. In addition, the sophomore was able to consistently attack the baseline and force Farnoli into difficult, off-balance returns. While Farnoli would briefly rebound and capture a set on the back of a few strong serves, Remillard decisively captured the final game to win the opening set 6-2.
Remillard discussed how important her mental approach was to allowing her to successfully get a leg up on Farnoli.
“I knew it was going to be a hard-fought match,” she said. “I played Julia in the semis last year and she played really well, so I knew I needed to step up my game for the finals. I was focused on staying positive and being mentally strong and confident in my game. The minute you get down on yourself, you crumble. “
In the second set, Remillard kept up her momentum by winning the first three games. Her groundstroke and serving was strong in this stretch and she continued to attack the baseline with her forehand.
Remillard also made a few nice drop shots, and benefited from Farnoli struggling with her serves and beginning to visibly tire after her long semifinal. Remillard rallied from being down 30-0 in the second game.
After Farnoli did a better job of returning shots and keeping Remillard off-balance to win the fourth set, Remillard put her foot on the gas and won three consecutive games to seal the win. She lost just three points in these games.
Remillard and Coginchaug coach Amy Schaefer each discussed where she played especially well in the championship match.
“I think my cross-court forehand was really on today and that allowed me to set up a lot of winning points,” Remillard said. “I also think the sliced serves I hit along the baseline was really strong and helped me to get points.”
“Today I saw little things that she wasn’t able to do last year,” Schaefer added. “She displayed adjustments that allowed her to get to balls and recover quickly to earn points. Piper made a lot of tough, tough shots and that was really cool to watch. She executed the plan that she had for the match perfectly and that’s why things went so smoothly.”
Schaefer also discussed how rewarding it has been to see Remillard accomplish so much in her first two years playing for the Blue Devils.
“It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment and I know our team is so behind Piper,” she said. “She is the ultimate team player who cares more about the team than herself, and that makes Piper someone the whole school community wants to get behind. She’s just as excited to see people rooting for her as she is to win.”
Remillard said that over the last year, her ability to increase her agility and movement on the court has been crucial and allowed her to both reach more shots and become a more well-rounded player. As a freshman, Remillard advanced to the state quarterfinals for singles. She said she learned a lot from the 2021 tournament that she can bring to this year’s competition.
“Last year I wasn’t sure what to expect and lost to the top-seeded player,” she said. “It was a tough loss but I grew a lot from it and learned what elements of my game I needed to work on, mainly consistency and not making mistakes that give away free points.”
“Piper just needs to not get flustered against the players from the biggest programs in the tournament, especially if she falls behind in matches,” Schaefer said.
In the doubles portion of the championships, third-seeded Aggie Hunt and Beatrice Hunt of Old Lyme upset the top-seeded duo from Westbrook 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the finals against their own teammates, Livie Bass and Alexis Fenton. Bass and Fenton won 6-2, 6-4 for their second straight title.