Some might view it as a gamble, others as a calculated risk. But to Staples girls tennis coach Paco Fabian -- and the player he shifted from singles to doubles in the FCIAC semifinals Friday afternoon in Fairfield -- it was the only strategy available. It worked in the short term but did not produce the desired result in the big picture.
Staples could not pull off the upset.
Wreckers senior captain Melissa Beretta was switched by Fabian from her customary spot at No. 1 singles to No. 1 doubles Friday at Fairfield Ludlowe. She and partner Sarah Rountree won their match, but Staples gained victory in only one other match and the host Falcons (19-1) beat the Wreckers 4-2 to advance to the conference final on Wednesday at Wilton against the winner of the other semifinal between fourth-seeded Greenwich and top-seeded Darien.
The Staples' 12-match winning streak ended and left the Wreckers, the tournament's third seed, with a final record of 16-3. The unbeaten run began after Ludlowe defeated the Wreckers 5-2 on April 21 in Fairfield. The Falcons were seeded second for the FCIACs after losing for the first time all season on Monday against Darien, which emerged as No. 1.
Ludlowe led 3-2 when junior Cami Adajian finished off her straight-set victory at No. 2 singles over sophomore Julia Bartimer, of Staples, 6-3, 6-2. Adajian, who was undefeated in 2013, improved to 20-0 this season.
The Wreckers won the first two matches to be completed -- Nos. 1 and 2 doubles -- before the defending conference champion Falcons earned victories at No. 1 singles (Lindsey Evans), then No. 4 singles (Kyra Adajian), then No. 3 singles (Daria Efimov) and finally No. 2 singles, with Cami Adajian's triumph clinching Ludlowe's berth in the championship match.
The Falcons swept the four singles matches. Fabian's master plan was to win all three doubles contests and sneak away with one victory in singles for four total match wins to take the team competition. But it wasn't meant to be.
"I was 100 percent on board with the switch to play doubles," said Beretta, who played doubles once this season, in the Wreckers' 6-1 victory at Wilton on May 12. "I used to play a lot of doubles. I play doubles in practice, maybe about half of practice I'm playing doubles.
"Sarah and I played well together. We clicked," Beretta said. "She has a great volley. When she had an opportunity to attack, we took advantage of that."
Four successive losses to Ludlowe over the past few seasons prompted Fabian's move, he said. "We tried to do something different," Fabian said. "Melissa is a team player and she wanted to help the team. We've been good all year. I was somehow trying to figure out how to beat Ludlowe, and I'm still figuring it out."
That task was going to be difficult based on the Falcons' confidence, Ludlowe coach John Reisert said. Team-wide self-assurance from the regular season win over the Wreckers, in addition to the trust in each other from compiling a season-opening 17-0 record before the showdown for the No. 1 seed against Darien four days earlier.
"We knew going into the season that Staples was going to be in the elite top two or three teams in the conference," Reisert said. "They have strong players top to bottom. I think our confidence was the key to the victory. The confidence and being mentally prepared for the big battles."
The key matches, in Reisert's view, were all the singles contests. He praised Evans with "helping to set the table;" junior Kyra Adajian, at No. 4 singles, for a "tremendous match," playing strong against a new opponent; and Efimov, who had to fight hard and come back from losing the first set, he said. Efimov, a senior, trailed 4-3 in the second set but won the last nine games to defeat Staples junior Gabi Titlebaum 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.
It had been awhile since her match had clinched a team victory, Cami Adajian said. But she had the team-victory clinching win in the Falcons' 5-2 triumph over Ridgefield in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
"This was one of the toughest matches I've played this year -- definitely," Cami Adajian said, "because we're the same player. We moved each other around and had long points. We're both kind of fighters; we never gave up. We both played from the baseline, and I got a lot of baseline points."
The Adajian-Bartimer match nearly required 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete.
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Fairfield Ludlowe 4, Staples 2 (at Fairfield Ludlowe High School): Singles: Lindsey Evans (FL) def. Alex Collins 6-1, 6-2; Cami Adajian (FL) def. Julia Bartimer 6-3, 6-2; Daria Efimov (FL) def. Gabi Titlebaum 3-6, 6-4, 6-0; Kyra Adajian (FL) def. Tess Rubin 6-2, 6-1; Doubles: Melissa Beretta/Sarah Rountree (S) def. Chelsea Keane/Lauren Hilliker 6-1, 6-3; Kelsey Shockey/Vanessa Mauricio (S) def. Sarah Jennings/Ana Wyckoff 6-3, 6-1. Records: Staples 16-3, Ludlowe 19-1. Highlights: The match started nearly an hour earlier, a little after 3 p.m., to avoid the threat of rain. The No. 3 doubles match was stopped in the second set after Staples Avery Wallace and Rachel Liberman had taken the first set from Ludlowe's Lexi Brown and Julia Cheung 6-3. This was by agreement among the coaches and four players.