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WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The shoe fits: Liona serves an ace on his way to SHU

James Farley
Liona returns a shot during an MIAA State Tournament singles match.

Reigning Dual County League [DCL] MVP and senior tennis captain Connor Liona has committed to play Division 1 tennis at Sacred Heart University. Liona announced his commitment on Saturday, March 9th, choosing Sacred Heart over his other two college finalists, Duquesne University and Ithaca College due to its strong tennis program, having his major, and its pretty campus.

Tennis has played a significant role in Liona’s life since he was a kid. Liona began playing when he was four years old, pairing it alongside a variety of other sports throughout his childhood, including basketball, baseball, and soccer. However, it wasn’t until his freshman year of high school that he turned his focus to tennis entirely, playing the sport year-round.

“It was my goal to play college tennis since middle school,” Liona said.

This decision proved to be a vital one for Liona, as it gave him the time to compete in United States Tennis Association [USTA] tournaments year long. The USTA plays a significant role in the rankings of athletes across the country, allowing for Liona to be scouted by various colleges based on his performances in these tournaments.

“The USTA tournaments really matter in terms of official results against high quality opponents,” Liona said. “The results in these tournaments are what drove me to be able to be recruited.”

In order to get to the place where he is today athletically, Liona had to dedicate a great deal of time and hard work. Alongside the high school season with WA in the spring, Liona has trained with club coaches for many years. At 12 years old, he began working with Mike Dizuzio from the New England Tennis Academy, and as of last year, he has worked with Paco Morato from the New England Tennis Center. This exposure to extra coaching has been a key factor in Liona’s progression as a player.

“My coaches played a role in me playing solely tennis in high school. They helped me focus and decide if I was really willing to put in the work to play in college,” Liona said. “I owe most of the development of my game to Mike [Dizuzio], and the refining of my strengths and weaknesses with both the playing and mental aspects of tennis have come from Paco [Morato].”

With these coaches, Liona has developed areas of his game that set him apart from most of his competition and make him the strong player that he is.

“I have a pretty strong serve, so my baseball background of throwing the ball probably helped me there with my smooth technique,” Liona said.

Playing for WA has also made a big difference on Liona’s overall growth as a player. Not only have the coaching and chance to play throughout the spring benefited him, but also the intense one-on-one matches with junior teammate Saunak Manna.

“I love playing high school tennis with WA, I thrive in the team atmosphere,” Liona said. “I have also spent countless hours over the summer battling it out with Saunak Manna over at the Stony Brook courts, and that has helped me out a lot.”

Ultimately, all of his dedication to the sport has prepared Liona to play tennis at the Division 1 level in college. At Sacred Heart, he will play tennis all year for the school. Throughout the fall, the team will play in several individual tournaments, have off-season training in winter, and then around two matches a week during the regular season in the spring. 

Liona will take part in a significant change to the Sacred Heart athletic program when he steps foot on campus next fall. The Pioneers will be leaving the Northeast Conference [NEC] to join the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference [MAAC], a jump that will match them up against more competitive opponents.

“The MAAC is a little bit higher level [than the NEC] in terms of schools across all sports,” Liona said. “It is a more competitive conference that everyone is excited to be heading into.”

In the process of deciding on a school, Liona visited Sacred Heart several times, meeting with head coach Mike Guastelle and spending time with current members of the team. These experiences were one of the deciding factors in his final commitment.

“Both the guys on the team and the coaches are great,” Liona said. “I have met with Coach [Guastelle] twice on campus and once off of campus, and he is very personable.”

Joining the team next year provides another special opportunity for Liona, as he will be able to play alongside many players from countries around the world. Tennis is a popular sport internationally, thus making half of Sacred Heart’s roster international players. Currently, there are players from Venezuela, Cyprus, France, El Salvador, New Zealand, and the Czech Republic on the roster.

“It will be a very unique experience, and I am really excited to play with them,” Liona said.

At Sacred Heart, Liona will take part in a 3+3 Exercise Science program on an accelerated academic track that allows him to finish his undergraduate requirements in just three years, and then move into a Clinical Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT).

“It is a direct entry program, so I am guaranteed a spot into the graduate program without needing to reapply for it, which is a relief,” Liona said. “So, I will finish my fourth year with the tennis program while in graduate school.”

On the road to Sacred Heart, Liona’s family has played a major role in supporting him along the way in everything that he does.

“My dad ran at Brown, my brother currently runs at WPI, and my mom played high school basketball for three years and grew up in a competitive family, so she played a lot of sports, as well,” Liona said. “We are always competitive with each other, and they have really helped me out along the way.”

While Sacred Heart is on the table for an exciting future ahead for Liona, he is currently setting his sights toward the spring season with WA that began on Monday, March 18. The team brings back Liona and Manna, their top two players from a team that went to the quarterfinals in the MIAA State Tournament last year.

“We have a lot of guys with some good experience who will be able to contribute and compete for some spots in the lineup,” Liona said. “Then, Saunak and I returning at the one and two spots will really help. We would love to continue the trend from last year and go even further than the quarterfinals.”

Through great hard work and passion for the game, Liona has made a positive mark on the WA tennis program, and he has learned to accept his mistakes, using them as learning experiences to help him become a better player.

“Practice is where mistakes are going to be made, and I think getting upset about them is human nature,” Liona said. “However, mistakes are going to happen to everyone, so you might as well figure out where your mistakes are coming from and work on them so that you are ready when you compete.”

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About the Contributor
James Farley
James Farley, Editor-in-Chief
Hey, my name is James Farley, and I am a senior Editor-in-Chief for the WA Ghostwriter!  I love writing, and also have a passion for sports, so I am excited to incorporate these aspects of my life into my work here for the newspaper. Outside of school, I love spending time with my family and friends, going on vacations, and playing sports. I can’t wait for what’s in store this year with the Ghostwriter!

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