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  • Greg Lederer

Orlins Defends Girls' Singles State Title On Tennis Court, Earns Second Straight Unbeaten Season

Alex Orlins focuses on the tennis ball during the CIT girls' singles final. Photo by Greg Lederer.

After winning her second straight girls' singles state title, Alex Orlins posed with her mother Suejin. Photo by Greg Lederer.

Alex Orlins and Branford's Peyton Gaudreau are friends on and off the tennis court. Photo by Greg Lederer.

by Greg Lederer

Cheshire Sports Media

As the defending champion and top seed, Cheshire High School tennis player Alex Orlins entered the Connecticut Invitational Tournament as the favorite in girls’ singles. Over the course of six matches, Orlins drew applause for the placement, pace, and power behind her array of shots, but it was mental toughness and determination that allowed the junior standout to keep her spot atop the state.

In Wednesday’s state final at Conard at West Hartford, Orlins won 6-4, 6-3 over Branford junior Peyton Gaudreau to defend her crown. The match clinched her second straight undefeated season (20-0).

“Not really,” said Orlins, on her 64-1 career record setting in for her. “It is crazy. I mean 64-1 is insane.”

Orlins and Gaudreau are not strangers to each other. Along with being friends off the court, the girls both play for teams in the Southern Connecticut Conference.

The sixth seed in CIT, Gaudreau went 17-3 this year, with the only three losses coming against Orlins.

“It is obviously really tough,” stated Orlins, of playing against a friend. “We know each other’s games so well, but I think just on the court, we have to be focused. We have to be all business. It is competition at the end of the day.”

While Orlins won in straight sets on Wednesday, the victory didn’t come easy. Gaudreau came out fast to win the first two games of the match.

Undeterred, Orlins responded by winning the next three to take the lead.

“At that point, I knew she was playing well. I knew she was going to come out strong and she did it,” recalled Orlins. “All credit to her, but (even though) I lost those first two games, it wasn’t like I was getting blown off the court in the first couple games. I think the second game went to deuce a couple times, so I just knew I was still in it. So, I just knew I had to keep fighting and keep pushing through.”

Orlins had a chance to serve out the first set, however, Gaudreau broke to cut the deficit to 5-4. Like at the start of the match, Orlins kept her composure and broke right back to take the opening frame.

“It is obviously a great feeling,” said Orlins. “It is a big relief to get through that and not have to go to 5 all (5-5). She gave me a couple points there, but being able to break her serve gives you a lot of momentum going into the second set.” 

Cheshire Head Coach Peter Zacharias feels that Orlins has gotten stronger in her mental game.

“When I watch her play now, I can see the moments where she gets mad, but then she tries to reset and collect herself,” explained Zacharias. “The tough part about when they do it here (at Conard) is you can’t coach on the changeovers. Last year, you were able to, but now if I tell her something, it has to be between sets and then she is basically the one in charge of herself. She has to calm herself down and she has to stick to the game plan, so there it is a little bit tougher, but she did great.”

In contrast to the first set of the final, Orlins won the first two games of the second. Behind stellar defense, Gaudreau used two breaks of serve to tie the set at 3-3.

In what would be the pivotal sequence of the final, the girls both earned multiple game points in a frame that lasted for over 10 minutes. In being put under considerable pressure, Orlins displayed her championship pedigree.

For the last ad-out she faced, Orlins hit a winner into the right corner of the court. She followed up by winning the next two points to win the marathon game.

“She played a lot of great points in that game and it was a super close game,” reflected Orlins. "She had a couple break point opportunities. I think when you get into those longer games, being able to win them is just so much more important because it gives you so much more momentum when you go forward into the next game.”

Orlins used her momentum finish on a 3-0 run. She broke Gaudreau’s serve and then served out the ensuing game to defend the title.

On championship point, Orlins watched the ball be returned behind the court and then walked to the net to hug Gaudreau.

The final capped a busy week for Orlins. Along with Gaudreau, Orlins defeated Daniel Hand sophomore Loden Bradstreet (6-0, 6-0), Greenwich sophomore Shining Sun (6-2, 6-1), Coginchaug senior Piper Remillard (6-0, 6-0), Amity junior Soumya Wijesekera (6-2, 6-2), and New Canaan freshman Leah Zheng (6-3, 2-6, 12-10).

In Tuesday’s semifinal, Orlins took a 1-0 lead in the match, but then dropped her first set of the season to Zheng.

Momentum seesawed in the tiebreaker for the third set. Orlins trailed 6-3, but she went on a six-point run to take the lead. Zheng rallied to go up 10-9, however, Orlins dug deep to win the final three points and stay unbeaten.

“It just takes a lot of practice,” said Orlins, of handling pressure situations. “I’ve played a lot of matches obviously in high school tennis and outside of it. So just being able to have that experience and have that confidence knowing I’ve been in all of these situations before and I’ve done it all before. It just really helps my confidence and being able to push through those moments.”

“I think the great thing is she doesn’t have an ego where I think when she comes here, I hear a lot of people whispering ‘oh, that is the girl who the number one seed and that is the player who is supposed to get to the final kind of thing,’” added Zacharias. “In my eyes, anyone can be beaten at this stage. Someone can come in that is unseeded and play here the right way. In the moments where she has that adversity, she usually manages to come out on top. When it comes down to those crucial moments, I think she kind of buckles down and plays well.”

Orlins appreciated the support of her family, Zacharias, and teammates.

“It means the world. All week, they have been coming out and just supporting, so being able to just have them there supporting and coming this far to West Hartford is an amazing feeling,” stated Orlins. “I just love them so much.”

For three years, Orlins has played number one singles for the Rams. Her only loss came in her freshman season against Darien’s Lauren Zhang in the state semifinals.

In last year’s state final, Orlins avenged that defeat and claimed Cheshire’s first CIT title with a 4-6, 6-2, 10-8 victory over Zhang.

With her senior year ahead, Orlins plans to extend her tennis career in college, but hasn’t chosen a school yet.

In Wednesday's state final, Alex Orlins used ground strokes to set up this finish at the net.

Alex Orlins used mental and physical toughness to pull out a key service game in the second set of the CIT girls' singles final.

Alex Orlins won the final three games to clinch her second straight state crown. She has a 64-1 record at CHS.

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