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Nikita Katukota

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Port Jefferson's Devin Rotunno volleys in her first singles set against Comsewogue. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Precision protected Port Jefferson girls tennis’ undefeated League VI streak.

Junior Devin Rotunno’s accuracy was a much different style than that of her junior opponent, Comsewogue’s Nikita Katukota, whose hard-hitting forehand forced Rotunno to cover every inch of the court. One point between the two players spanned 40 hits in the volley, and in the end, Rotunno prevailed, winning 7-6, 7-5 to lead the Royals to a 6-1 outscoring of host Comsewogue Sept. 18.

Comsewgoue’s Nikita Katukota slams the ball back over the net against Port Jefferson’s Devin Rotunno. Photo by Bill Landon

“I haven’t [seen] her before, but my coach told me she’s good, she hits hard, so I came in knowing it was going to be a tough battle,” Rotunno said. “I felt that I had consistency and I really think that gave me an advantage today.”

Katukota said she looked forward to facing the Port Jefferson lineup because she wanted to test herself against a formidable opponent.

“She’s a really good player — she hits the ball really hard, which I really like because I want to challenge myself against players who hit the ball with pace,” she said of Rotunno. “She has a lot of top spin, she moves her feet around the court so I just had a great time playing her.”

In second singles, Jillian Lawler also won her match in two sets, topping Comsewogue’s Kaitlyn Musmachev 6-2, 6-4, but the third singles matchup took three sets to decide.

Port Jefferson seventh-grader Nicolina Giannola battled Comsewogue’s Ankita Katukota, Nikita’s twin sister, and hung on after dropping the second set to win the decisive third, for a 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 edging.

The bright spot for the Warriors came in fourth singles play. Trisha Sandhala recovered from a 1-6 loss to take the next two sets 6-4, 6-4 snatching Comsewogue’s lone singles victory.

“I think they’re better than I thought they’d be,” Comsewogue head coach Michael Taheny said of Port Jefferson. “I liked our fight. My singles players are good, but [Port Jefferson is] hands down better than every other team we’ve played so far. It was a little shock to our system in that ‘wow, these [Port Jefferson] girls are really good.’”

Port Jefferson’s Jillian Lawler reaches for the ball in her second singles match. Photo by Bill Landon

The Royals also dominated doubles play, taking all three matches in two sets each. Although Taheny noted his team’s young new doubles squad is going through an adjustment period, Port Jefferson head coach Keith Houghtaling also noted an adjustment to be made in relying on depth, especially when the Royals next face Middle Country. With the win over Comsewogue, Port Jefferson’s fifth straight to put the team at 5-2 overall, it puts a target on the team’s back, but things could change the second time around against some of the teams.

“[Middle Country is] a tough team with a deep lineup — we beat them 5-2, but all three doubles went three sets, and one of the singles went three sets, so we could’ve just as easily lost that 4-3,” Houghtaling said of the Royals’ Sept. 8 win over the Mad Dogs. “We beat Mount Sinai 5-2 [Sept. 13], but one of their singles was out, so again that could be tough [when they’re back to full strength].”

Houghtaling said the pressure of being the No. 1 team in the league isn’t going to stop his Royals.

“We may have been able to sneak up on some teams earlier in the year based on last year’s record, but now that we are in first place, I fully expect each opponent will bring their very best lineup and effort against us,” he said. “I can assure you that our girls are fully aware of this, and they are up for the challenge.”

Comsewogue junior Kaitlyn Musmacher makes contact in her singles matchup victory at Mount Siani Sept. 11. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

It was the strength of Comsewogue’s singles play that was the difference in a Sept. 11 matchup against Mount Sinai girls tennis, which the Warriors pulled away from 4-3 on the road.

Mount Sinai junior Alexis Gergely sends the ball over the net. Photo by Bill Landon

Nikita Katukota, a junior, led the way for Comsewogue, outscoring her opponent 7-5, 6-2, which set the tone early.

“I thought I played pretty well — I was hitting the ball pretty hard, so I was happy with that,” she said. “I was more consistent. The first set was really tight, I was leading 2-1 on the second set but because of injury issues my [opponent] had to leave the court.”

Classmate Kaitlyn Musmacher, who had to dig her way out of a hole, rebounded from her first-set loss to win 6-4, 6-1.

According to Comsewogue head coach Mike Taheny, Musmacher, a three-year varsity starter, is the best athlete and net player on the team. Natukota, he said, has the best strokes, is the most skilled and hardest hitter. The two are co-captains on a young team that fields no seniors.

The Mustangs fell to Eastport-South Manor 5-2, but turned the corner in a 5-2 match against Rocky Point for their first league win of the season.

“A lot of the girls did a fantastic job, even in some of the matches where we ended up losing they were close, so the girls are having a great start for the year,” Mount Sinai head coach Tom Duffy said of the last few matches. “We have young girls stepping in — we have a couple of freshman and an eight-grader [Glorianna Gennaro] who played first doubles for us today, and the eight-grader played fourth singles for us at Rocky Point, so we have a lot of flexibility.”

Comsewogue junior Nikita Katukota volleys. Photo by Bill Landon

Mount Sinai’s strength was in its first doubles play, where the Mustangs paired junior and three-year varsity starter Alexis Gergely with Gennaro, who won handily in two sets, 6-3 and 6-2.

“I thought we played well at net,” Gergely said. “We won in our opening match against [Bellport], but I’ve got to focus on getting better on my serves.”

Taheny said Port Jefferson will give his team a run for its money. Comsewogue will face off against the Royals Sept. 18 at 3:30 p.m.

“Rumor has it that Port Jeff has a very good singles lineup — I don’t know because we didn’t play them last year,” the coach said. “But I think our team is very strong, and honestly, it’s going to be a tight league.”

Ankita Katukota, Nikita’s twin sister, answered the call in third singles, defeating her challenger 6-3, 6-4, and Trisha Sandhala was right behind her, besting her foe 6-3, 6-2 for the sweep.

“I went up to the net more, but not as much volleying,” Ankita Katukota said. “I was pleased with my serving and I had more winners down the line.”

Mount Sinai senior Kaitlin Chen said she had to battle her way through her singles sets, but was upbeat despite the outcome.

Mount Sinai eight-grader Glorianna Gennaro smacks the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

“Although I lost my match today, I played pretty well and I was pleased with my forehand,” the co-captain said. “I’ll work on getting better with my back hand. I lost against Eastport-South Manor in our first match, but I won against Rocky Point on Friday.”

Taheny said his team’s challenge this year will be in doubles play, which boasts all new faces.

“We lost six seniors to graduation — I lost my entire doubles squad — but this year they’re new and they’re fresh, and getting better every match,” he said, noting that on the flip side his one through four singles players are returners.

Mount Sinai co-captain Alexandra Suslan said she had too had a tough singles match, but was also pleased by how close it was.

“I lost today, but I played well in the first set,” the senior said. “I was satisfied with my serves and some of my angle shots, but I need to get better at hitting higher over the net.”

With the win Comsewogue improves to 2-0 and will host Middle Country on Wednesday.

Mount Sinai drops to 1-1 in League VI play, but will look for redemption when the Mustangs also take on undefeated Port Jefferson next at home at 3:30 p.m.

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