Being the best when it matters most

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Naugatuck girls tennis coach Jose Sendra focuses on finishing

By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News

Naugatuck High School girls tennis coach Jose Sendra speaks with his players at the Naugatuck Valley League tournament final in 2019 at Wilby High School in Waterbury. –FILE PHOTO

With the high school sports season canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Citizen’s News is highlighting longtime coaches at Naugatuck and Woodland high schools who patrol the sidelines during the spring. This week, we shine the spotlight on Naugatuck High girls tennis coach Jose Sendra.

NAUGATUCK — With a mantra of playing at your best when it matters the most, Naugatuck High girls tennis coach Jose Sendra is more concerned with the finish than the start.

His players have followed suit. The Greyhounds have appeared in four Naugatuck Valley League girls tennis championships in the last six years — claiming titles in 2016 and 2019.

In 2016, Sendra led the girls to the NVL championship and proved it’s how you finish that matters. Naugy was ranked No. 5 and knocked off Woodland, 4-3, in the quarterfinals, Sacred Heart, 4-3, in the semifinals and trailed Watertown 3-1 in the championship match before coming back to win 4-3.

“A lot of the girls come in never having played tennis before,” said Sendra, who has coached the team to a sturdy 122-34 record in nine seasons at the helm. “This is all new to them, but they work at it and find success. Floraine Evardo came in with no experience, and by the time graduation came around she was an NVL champion and a two-time All-NVL player.”

Sendra, a world language teacher at Naugatuck High, got his coaching start on the pitch, not the tennis court. He began his high school coaching career as the freshman boys soccer coach from 2004 to 2008 under the tutelage of the former boys soccer coach Art Nunes.

Sendra took over the girls soccer team in 2009 with a pair of more-than-qualified assistants, Christina Nunes and Lisa Mariano, at his side.

“I had two very good assistant coaches and that helped us to be successful,” Sendra said.

The team went undefeated in the NVL and won the league championship, eventually losing to Masuk in the state quarterfinals to finish the season 19-1.

Sendra coached the girls soccer team back to the NVL championship game in 2010, but lost to Watertown and the Indians’ new head coach, Mariano. In two seasons, he guided the Greyhounds to a 33-5-1 record.

In 2011, Sendra resigned as the girls soccer coach because he didn’t want to be away from home that much with a new baby on the way. He did end up coaching girls tennis that year, though.

“Tennis was a more positive environment and didn’t have the same kind of demands or drama that soccer has,” he said.

Sendra said the hardest part of coaching tennis was becoming a good tennis coach. He had played tennis in the past, and turned to YouTube to help.

“When I first started it didn’t go so well, as we began the season 0-5,” Sendra said. “But 12 days into the season we finally got our first win over Sacred Heart and we finished the season at 11-7.”

“We figured it out,” he added. “We learned to become more aggressive, we learned to become more competitive and we have kept growing as a program ever since.”

When comparing tennis and soccer, Sendra said the latter is a little easier to coach on game day.

“If one of your players is having a bad game you can sub them out and talk to them on the sideline and try to straighten out the problem,” he said. “In tennis, if one of your players is having a bad game you can’t just sub them out. You have to watch them struggle through it, and that is the hardest part.”

Sendra got back into coaching soccer last year as the JV coach for Ryan Kinne and the Greyhounds.

“I get to have all the fun with none of the pressure,” Sendra said.

Sendra leans on his soccer experience when coaching tennis.

“I talk a lot about soccer when I’m coaching tennis, because you need the same kind of mindset using agility and tenacity to succeed,” Sendra said. “My goal is to help them become somebody they never thought they could be.”

“For a lot of them this is the very first sport they ever played and some of them go on to become champions,” he added. “To see that happen is the greatest reward for a coach to see your kids succeed at the highest level.”