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Tennis

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By Bill Landon

Ward Melville’s girls tennis team’s unbeaten, 14-0, regular season record is unmatched by any of the 52 varsity squads in Suffolk County. Add to that four playoff victories, the last one leading to a Suffolk County championship title, and the Patriots are in rarefied air.

Head coach Erick Sussin said the remarkable winning streak is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement.

“No other team in Suffolk County has gone undefeated, in all leagues — all the others have at least one loss,” he said. “Now every team plays different schedules and sometimes you’re comparing apples and oranges, but we did have a tough schedule and not to drop a match.”

The Patriots tasted defeat for the first time when they fell to Port Washington, 5-2, in a rain delayed Long Island championship finale at Half Hollow Hills West Nov. 1.

Ward Melville junior Denise Lai had her hands full at first singles, but ultimately prevailed against seventh-grader Thea Rabman 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Section XI had a surprise in store for the three-year varsity player after the match. Lai, who was been name All-State the last two seasons, learned she had captured the sportsmanship award for the season, as voted by Suffolk County coaches.

“There’s no doubt about, its humbling,” Lai said, overwhelmed. “I’m just happy I’m acknowledged for how nice I am.”

Sussin was quick to point out what his junior standout has meant to the team.

“Denise is not just our captain, she’s the team leader at the highest position,” the coach said. “She’s been top notch all year and she plays well under pressure. She represents our team at first singles.”

Ward Melville junior Anna Ma, a three-year varsity player who usually competes in first doubles, found herself competing in fourth singles and won her match 7-5, 6-3.

Sussin said his strategy for the match was to get to four wins as soon as possible. To try to do this, he continued to move some of his star doubles players to singles spots, like Keren Collins, who ultimately won the county championship for her team.

The senior, who usually pairs with Ma, competed in third singles throughout the postseason.

“We know that in our [matchups] we can get four points in other ways,” Sussin said. “They prefer doubles, and in doubles their hands get better, their volleys get better, and you can use that in singles play.”

Collins said she had confidence in her team throughout the playoffs no matter where her teammates were slotted.

“It didn’t matter who we were playing, everyone in every position had the ability to get it done —we all did our part we just kept pushing through,” Collins said. “We had confidence going out there each time, knowing we could do it. And every time we won, we’d have a quick 10-second celebration and move on to the next match. We set our goals and we conquered them.”

Julia Hu attributed her team’s remarkable season and its rise to Long Island level to the depth of Ward Melville’s roster.

“Reaching this game says so much about how deeply talented our team is from our first singles to our third doubles,” Hu said. “Our girls are so disciplined with their training throughout the year, and with their effort and support of the entire team — we all contributed to that 18-0 record.”

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Keren Collins is surrounded by her teammates following her three-set win to propel Ward Melville to a county team title. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Patriots had been in this position before, but this time, all eyes were on senior Keren Collins.

Keren Collins returns the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

The Ward Melville girls tennis team’s chance at redeeming last season’s finals loss to Commack for the Suffolk County team title came down to the third singles match, and Collins came from behind 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 to claim the crown for the No. 1 Patriots with a 4-3 edging of No. 2 Half Hollow Hills East Oct. 23.

“At first, the pressure was nonexistent, but when I found out [I was in the last match of the day] and up by three or four games, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to use that advantage and get this, right here,’” Collins said. “Last year we made it to the finals and lost to Commack, but this year we were determined to make it happen and I wasn’t going to let the chance slip away.”

While Collins was competing on the William Floyd court, third doubles pair Ellie Berger and Sam Sloan were playing alongside her. The Patriots duo dropped the second set 1-6 after winning a commanding first 6-1, and eked out a 6-4 win in the third over Lauren Kornfeld and Emily Me taxas.

Denise Lai volleys. Photo by Bill Landon

After the win and even with the mounting pressure, Collins kept her pace and her power stroke strong as she wore down her opponent.

“I was able to hit down the middle and I kept going to every possible corner that I could,” she said. “But [Melissa Chen] was extremely athletic — she was able to get to almost everything, she was like a ball machine, so I had to tire her out as much as possible.”

Ward Melville head coach Erick Sussin said his three-time All-County player was a game-changer.

“Keren was able to change the dynamic of the game. What she lacks in mobility on the court she makes up with power,” he said. “With power — putting the slice in every so often — she mixed it up so that pace went from really fast to really slow, and that caught her opponent off=guard.”

Earlier in the match, Anna Ma won her fourth singles match 6-3, 6-1 and Denise Lai did her part in first singles, defeating Alexis Huber in convincing fashion 6-0, 6-2. But the two-time All-State player admitted she was nervous about whether her team could pull out a victory.

“I had some doubts,” Lai said. “Last year was kind of sad, we lost big time, but I’m so happy that we finally won.”

Julia Hu serves the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

Sussin said that changing wind conditions presented a problem, especially during Collins match, but said she seemed to take the gusts of wind in stride.

“It was a factor early on, especially in that second set, and she used the wind when she needed to —when the wind was at her back her slice was dropping in,” Sussin said. “And when the wind was at her face she was able to hit through it with all her pace.”

Julia Hu, a three-time All-County player, said she did not doubt Collins in the nail-biting contest, even through standing still in silence with her teammates.

“I knew she could pull it out — she has that amazing mental strength,” Hu said. “She’s been playing tennis for so long and she knows she has to get the job done, and won’t let her emotions interfere with what she has to do.”

Ward Melville now turns its attention to winning the Long Island title. The undefeated, 18-0 Patriots will play Port Washington at Half Hollow Hills West Oct. 25 at 3 p.m.

The Ward Melville girls tennis team took the Suffolk County team title with a 4-3 win over Half Hollow Hills East Oct. 24. Photo by Bill Landon

Middle Country's Shauna Singh continues the volly. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Middle Country ended the regular season on a high note.

Rocky Point’s Katie Barber sends the ball over the net. Photo by Bill Landon

The Mad Dogs girls tennis team invaded Rocky Point Oct. 2 and took home a 6-1 League VI win over the Eagles. Middle Country is ranked No. 3 in the standings with a 6-4 record behind Mount Sinai and undefeated Port Jefferson.

“We were pretty evenly balanced today in singles — they kept the ball in play and they didn’t make the mental mistakes [to] beat themselves,” Middle Country head coach Mike Steinberg said. “Our doubles [had a good outing]. They worked well together.”

What the coach has liked seeing most from his team this season is consistency, and hopes that carries into tournament play.

“We’ll get some doubles in for the tournament,” he said. “Hopefully we can get one or two singles [players into the mix].”

Middle Country’s Olivia Zhu serves. Photo by Bill Landon

After dropping her first two games, Middle Country’s No. 1 singles player Olivia Zhu, a five-year varsity starter, swept the next 12 to shut the door on her opponent, winning 6-2, 6-0.

“I had a little bit of a slow start in those first two games, but after that it was smooth sailing,” the senior two-time All-County player said. “I thought I did a really good job at pushing her deep — keeping her towards the baseline — to attack to finish off points.”

Rocky Point senior duo Katie Barber and Allison Kasper had their hands full in No. 1 doubles, dropping the match 3-6, 4-6.

“We ended up losing, but it was a really strong match,” Barber said. “We were strong at the net. I’m tall, so it’s hard to get it around me. It’s a powerful shot [if I can hit] down at them and that gets you a lot of points.”

Kasper said she and Barber will now prepare for postseason play where it’s anybody’s match, especially not knowing who your opponent is until game time. Rocky Point ends the season with a 2-8 team record.

“It all depends on the draw — hopefully we get an easier team so that we face them first and from there work our way up,” Kasper said. “I was pleased with my backhand today, but I need to be more aggressive on my net play.”

Rocky Point’s Allison Kasper slams the ball back over the new. Photo by Bill Landon

Middle Country’s Haylie Budd said she was satisfied with her play in No. 1 doubles against the pair, adding it wasn’t the first time the two teams had squared off.

“We were good at volleying at the net and hitting it away from them,” Budd said. “I expected a strong match and they were better than the last time we faced them.”

Rocky Point head coach Jim Buonconsiglio said he’s also been pleased with the progress his team has made.

“The girls have just been a delight to work with,” he said. “All around I’ve seen tremendous growth from the start of the season through today. Record-wise it doesn’t really show that, but as their coach I can see that the growth has been there and all aspects of their game has improved.”

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Ward Meville's Anna Ma sends the ball back. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville head coach Erick Sussin doesn’t hesitate to mix up his tennis lineup. In fact, it’s been a recipe for success this season. The Sept. 25 matchup against Bayport-Blue Point proved no different, as the Patriots blanked their opponent 7-0 to remain undefeated atop the League V leaderboard.

Ward Melville’s Jade Eggleston serves. Photo by Bill Landon

“We lack the depth we had a year ago, and we’ve changed up our No. 3 and No. 4 singles several times this year,” the head coach said. “But we have strong four points [in No. 1 and No. 2 doubles and singles], and all you need is four points to win. That has allowed us to win all of these matches.”

Jade Eggelston’s No. 1 singles match was a breeze, sweeping 6-1, 6-0. The sophomore is typically a No. 2 singles starter, but her head coach said she’s one of the most consistent players, even with the pressure of the team being 8-0.

“You want to keep it up — you don’t want to let your school down,” Eggelston said. “I had to keep my rhythm and maintain consistency, but I thought my serve was pretty dependable today.”

Typically the No. 1 singles starter, junior Denise Lai won her match first doubles match with classmate Anna Ma, 6-0, 6-1.

“Starting in first doubles was a little different for me today,” Lai said. “[But] I look at it as just another match and try to play my best.”

Sussin said Ma hits with incredible pace on her groundstrokes and has a tough serve to break, which makes her a force to be reckoned with. She said she just continues to take each match one set at a time.

Ward Melville’s Natalie Ferretti volleys in her first varsity start. Photo by Bill Landon

“It adds pressure because you’re expected to win, but it also makes you play better,” Ma said, adding that she thought her forehand and serve helped her win the match. “We’ll have to be more consistent and keep our heads in the game — stay mentally strong.”

Senior Keren Collins, normally at first doubles, partnered with Isabella Anderes at second doubles and shut out their challengers 6-0, 6-0.

Collins, a returning All-County player since 2015, agreed with her teammates that being undefeated helps her focus and gives her more of a desire to give it her all.

“It makes you play better,” she said. “It gives you confidence that we can do this. We’ve done it before, so we can do it again.”

Dara Berman won her third singles matchup 6-2, 6-3 and Preeti Kota blanked her opponent 6-0, 6-0 in fourth singles, while Samantha Sloan and Natalia Ferretti’s results were much closer, edging their opponents 7-5, 6-4. Ferretti secured her first win in her first varsity start.

Ward Melville is back in action on their home court Sept. 27. The Patriots will host Sachem at 4 p.m.

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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.

Tennis players participating in a mixed doubles game in 1967 including Andy Kevey, second from left, and Linwood Lee, right. Photo from Susan Falvey

By Rita J. Egan

The first tournament of the U.S. Open is scheduled for Aug. 28, but Flushing Meadows isn’t the only place in New York filled with tennis history. Since 1959, the Three Village Tennis Club on Main Street in Setauket has provided lifelong memories for its members.

Susan Falvey’s parents, Marta and Andy Kevey, were founding members of the club. She said the women would organize bake sales, fashion shows and dances to raise money, while the men helped maintain the property and the original court. In 1959, yearly dues were $15 for children, $25 for adults and $50 for families.

Marta and Andy Kevey after a tournament at the club in 1967. Photo from Ann Fossan

To her, the spot is a hidden treasure.

“The club is still very active today,” Falvey said. “It’s very simple — we don’t have a clubhouse or anything, but the courts are still in good condition.”

Falvey has fond memories playing as a child at the club and then afterwards riding bikes with friends along Main Street to go to the Jack in the Box near where the Setauket Fire Department firehouse is located today.

In an essay about the club, Andy Kevey wrote of the founding members securing a single tennis court, donated by The Setauket Neighborhood House located behind a barn.

“That old cracked asphalt court went through three metamorphosis each year: tennis court, to basketball court, to ice skating rink,” he wrote. “It had a net for tennis, two baskets for practicing shooting and 6-inch raised borders that allowed it to be flooded in the winter.”

The club hasn’t changed much through the decades, except for the number of courts and who can join. As the population in the area grew in the 1960s, the club limited its membership to residents of the Three Village Central School District.

As the club evolved, six green clay Har-Tru courts were added, and the original asphalt-based court was eventually converted to clay in the 1980s, as water doesn’t drain properly on a harder court. Once the asphalt court was converted to clay, interested players were able to join quicker. Before that, there was a five-year wait.

Wayne Mercer, who joined the club in the late 1980s and has served various positions on the board, remembers due to spacing issues that affected play, court four was moved away from court three and seven away from six. Improvements were also made so the courts would drain better.

“Courts that no one wanted to play on became very playable,” he said.

Current board member Randy Conard’s mother Marion was the first president, and one of the organization’s co-founders. He said the founding of the club was a community effort, where the original board members were trying to expand the popularity of tennis in the area.

Conard said his mother, who died in 2008 at 86, played tennis for decades at the club. His mother’s involvement, he said, “was all for the love of the community and tennis.”

Conard said members would take vacations together, going to resorts and playing tennis. Through the decades, families gathered on the club grounds for barbecues and picnics.

“It was a very tight-knit community,” he said.

Joe McDonnell playing tennis on court two at the club in 1967. Photo from Joe McDonnell

Joe McDonnell moved to Setauket with his family in 1964. A preteen at the time, McDonnell said he could walk to the club by cutting through his neighbor’s backyard. He played at the Three Village Tennis Club for years and as a young man would help maintain the courts. He said his years at the club led to him teaching tennis at Harbor Hills and the Old Field Club during his time in college and graduate school, and in the late 1980s he became a member of the Three Village Tennis Club board.

“It was a club with extraordinary spirit,” McDonnell said. “Like many organizations are when they are first founded, there’s that entrepreneurial spirit.”

McDonnell said he looked up to and learned a great deal about tennis from founding member Bob Pereira, who was also his dentist.

Among the many Stony Brook University professors who were members of the club was Linwood Lee, who still teaches at the college. He said as soon as he found a home in Stony Brook he looked for a tennis club for his family to play at, and enjoyed the camaraderie at the local club.

“It’s been a wonderful place to play tennis and a wonderful place to meet friends,” Lee said.

McDonnell said the club has always helped younger players improve and employed great tennis pros. He recalled Ineke Fisher, who lived in Florida with her husband. During the summers, the couple would come to New York, and Ineke would teach at the Three Village Tennis Club while her husband taught at the Old Field Club. McDonnell said Ineke’s instructions were a mixture of technique and court etiquette.

Once a year the club holds a Wimbledon Woody social event using old wooden rackets like it used to in years past.

“It was a far more finessed game,” McDonnell said, recalling the days he used to only swing a wooden racket. “It was a slower game, but it required you to move a player around a court and not just overpower them.”

Another annual competition at the club is the mixed doubles Van Slyke Tournament. McDonnell said he still remembers Dr. Don Van Slyke, for whom the tournament was named. Van Slyke was a biochemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, who played well into his 80s.

McDonnell moved to Maine six years ago, but said when he visits Long Island, he makes sure to stop and play at the club. He is considered an honorary member.

“This is a wonderful asset to the community,” he said. “It’s into another generation at this point, but it’s become very much established.”

The No. 2 Ward Melville girls' tennis team finishes in second place in the Suffolk County standings. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The conditions at William Floyd High School were less than ideal as the No. 1 and No. 2 girls’ tennis teams battled through wind and cold during the Section XI championship Oct. 25. Ward Melville had a more difficult time overcoming the conditions, and fell to the top-seeded team that avenged a finale loss last season, 6-1.

Shannon Sartain sends the ball back over the net. Photo by Bill Landon
Shannon Sartain sends the ball back over the net. Photo by Bill Landon

The Patriots lost to the Cougars 4-3 on Sept. 15 — the team’s only loss during the regular season, which was a nonleague match. Ward Melville head coach Erick Sussin said the difference this time around, was that Commack was at full strength.

“The first time we met them they didn’t have their No. 1 singles player, so they beat us 4-3 and that wasn’t even their best team,” Sussin said. “We knew that today would be a lot harder. We had to win four out of seven points, so I knew we had to win second and third doubles, and most likely third and fourth singles.”

Commack’s first and second singles are the rock of the Cougars’ lineup.

Emily Tannenbaum won Commack’s first match, 6-0, 6-1 over Ward Melville freshman Jade Eddleston at second singles. Gabi Glickstein defeated Jillian Shulder 6-7, 6-1, 6-1 at third singles.

“She has extremely consistent groundstrokes,” Sussin said of Eggleston. “She has a gritty determination to win on the court.”

Despite her loss, Shulder, a co-captain and All-League player who Sussin said has consistent, powerful groundstrokes, left it all on the court.

“I played to the best of my ability,” she said. “Even though I lost today — and I won against them last time — I was playing a girl of a higher spot. The wind definitely affects your play because you try to get the ball to do one thing, and it does another.”

Denise Lai continues the volley. Photo by Bill Landon
Denise Lai continues the volley. Photo by Bill Landon

Sussin said he was pleased with his team’s performance, and added he was proud of the level they achieved, despite the conditions being less than ideal.

“All the girls had to hit through the wind, the serves were tough and lobs were a little hard to deal with,” he said. “The doubles strategy was to try to win the points at the net and not worry about ground strokes, to end the point early because the wind’s going to take it.”

In first doubles, Ward Melville senior Morgan Voulo and sophomore Anna Ma, who the coach said has a tremendous forehand and killer overhands, lost to Commack’s Emma Matz, the younger cousin of New York Mets pitcher Steven Matz, and Julia Kinalis, 6-2, 6-2.

Ward Melville junior Julia Hu and sophomore Dara Berman lost 6-4, 6-1 over Commack’s Emma Mangels and Andrianna Kaimis in second doubles, and Ward Melville seniors Shannon Sartain and Julia Hoffmann fell 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 at third doubles to Commack’s Christine Kong and Victoria Pensiero.

“It was the best that I’ve played and it was hard once I knew that the team had lost,” Sartain said. “But I kept playing and I played hard all the way through.”

Jillian Shulder serves the ball. Photo by Bill Landon
Jillian Shulder serves the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

Sartain, an All-Division player, is the leader and heart and soul of the Patriots’ team, according to her head coach.

Voulo, another All-Division co-captain agreed with her teammates that the conditions made it harder for her to perform up to her expectations.

“The wind and how cold it was it made it hard to get through,” she said. “I think I did the best I could. I was pleased with my serve and my forehand, because normally that lets me down, but I think I brought that today.”

Ward Melville sophomore Denise Lai fell 6-3, 6-1 in first singles to seal the victory for Commack (15-1).

“She’s an unbelievable talent,” Sussin said of the sophomore despite her loss. “She has an excellent tennis IQ, all-around game and powerful topspin shots as well as perfect slices. She can crush the ball from the baseline or win on a soft drop shot with ease. Lai knows how to exploit her opponent’s weaknesses and is our quiet leader that all the girls look up to.”

Junior Keren Collins was the only player to win for Ward Melville. She topped her Commack opponent 6-3, 6-2 in fourth singles.

Ward Melville finished the season 16-2 overall, and went undefeated in League V.

“I was pleased with everybody’s performance today,” Sussin said. “When you reach this level everyone’s playing well and conditions were unfavorable for everybody. Commack played some good tennis. They are by far the best team in the county and when you play like they did today, they deserved it.”

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The Patriots will face undefeated Half Hollo hills East in the semifinals Tuesday

By Bill Landon

The strength of the Ward Melville boys’ tennis team is in the power of its singles play. The Patriots swept all four singles matches in the Suffolk County quarterfinals match, defeating Bay Shore 5-2 on their home court Thursday.

Junior Dan Meinster, a co-captain, led the way winning his best of three singles match, downing his opponent 6-1, 6-4. Classmate Matt Roberts followed with a 6-2, 6-3 singles win. Both athletes earned All-County honors this season.

“I won, but there was definitely room for improvement,” Meinster said. “I won the first set 6-1, and felt I played pretty well, but I dropped my game a little in that second set.”

All-Division player Nick Decker, a junior, downed his challenger 6-4, 6-3, and junior co-captain Jonathan Gruberg made short work of his foe, 6-1, 6-1, for a clean sweep in singles.

“I was consistent,” Gruberg said. “I had good volleys and I was able to stay with it, hit the ball back and score points. It was a good win for the team and I’m happy with my performance.”

Leading the way for the Patriots in doubles action were junior Dylan Ratner and sophomore Deven Wackett. The two got off to a rocky start, dropping their first set 2-6, but both players showed why they were named All-County, and battled back to win the next two 7-5, 7-5 to snatch the victory.

Cameron Dean, the lone senior on the team, had his hands full in first doubles, dropping the first set, but won the second. Dean said he was up against a tough opponent. The turning point came in the final set.

“They broke serve in the third set to put us down 0-2 and that took a little wind out of our sails,” he said. “We fought back at the end, but it just wasn’t enough to get the job done today.”

Ward Melville head coach Erick Sussin was particularly pleased with the strength of his teams’ singles play.

“They’re a tough opponent but our strength is in singles,” he said. “In doubles, we knew it was going to be challenging, and we did well.”

Meinster, Roberts and Decker are a strong one, two three, according to Sussin.

“And Jon Gruberg at four has been solid,” the head coach added. “Our doubles lineup is strong with Deven Wackett and Dylan Ratner who’s been solid all season and has come on strong in the last two matches.”

With a 10-0 League V record, 15-3 overall, No. 4 Ward Melville advances to the semifinal round to face top-seeded Half Hollow Hills East, 16-0 overall, on the road Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Sussin said his team knows the magnitude of the semifinal matchup, knowing that it will be the toughest opponent his Patriots will face all season. Half Hollow Hills East outscored Ward Melville 6-1 in the regular season.

“They’re the best team in the county, but we went three sets in four of those matches [when we lost to them],” he said. “They’ll definitely have the advantage, and we are complete underdogs here, but that’s when we play our best. We’ve had some good losses and sometimes good losses are better than bad wins.”

Middle Country's Solyman Hatami connects with the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Despite wind-whipped conditions, the Middle Country boys’ tennis team managed to pull out its second win of the season over Port Jefferson, 5-2, to earn the No. 3 spot in League VI behind undefeated Longwood and Mount Sinai.

The Mad Dogs, at 2-1, fell 7-0 to Longwood last week, and the Royals, at 1-5, had their hands full again with Middle County, as Port Jefferson fell to its opponent, 4-3, in the season opener.

Port Jefferson head coach Dennis Christofor said the weather made a win difficult, but added that his team has played in worse conditions before, just last week against Comsewogue.

“It’s a matter of who gets more first serves in the box — and they don’t even have to be hard,” he said. “The faster you can get the ball to the other guy’s backhand the faster you’re going to win the point, because at this level, they tend to have weaker backhands than forehands.”

Nick Kafeiti sends the ball over the net in his doubles match. Photo by Bill Landon
Nick Kafeiti sends the ball over the net in his doubles match. Photo by Bill Landon

Port Jefferson sophomore Eli Doyle had his hands full as he battled Middle Country sophomore Brandon Kittle. He won the first set 4-6, but dropped sets two and three, 6-2.

“In conditions like these consistency is the key,” Doyle said. “[You need to be] placing the ball away from your opponent.”

Middle Country senior and four year varsity player Solyman Hatami won his match, defeating his opponent 2-1.

“You need to take into consideration the elements — the wind direction and the chill factor,” Hatami said. “In addition to the athletic aspect, tennis is a very skill-based sport and part of that skill is thinking.”

Port Jefferson junior Nick Kafeiti said each end of the court presented difficult conditions.

“You have to adapt to it — knowing the wind direction makes you play the ball differently,” he said. “We did OK today.”

Middle Country head coach Mike Steinberg was most impressed by seventh-grader Alejandro Perez, whose presence on the court, he said, is well beyond his years.

“It’s one of those sports that when you start young, it’s such an advantage over someone who just picks up the racket for the first time,” he said.

But Christofor said two of his juniors, who have picked up the racket for the very first time this season, have been instrumental in bringing team strategy to an otherwise individual sport.

Alejandro Perez serves the ball. Photo by Bill Landon
Alejandro Perez serves the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

“Nick Kafeiti and Dan Strehle play football and soccer,” he said. “They already have that team mentality and are able to infuse that here. They’ve taught some of the other players that are one-sport athletes how to communicate and to identify their opponents’ weakness, and more importantly, how to exploit that. And that’s a big thing with our team being so young.”

Port Jefferson’s roster is made up of two seventh-graders, two eight-graders, two ninth-graders and five tenth-graders. The team has just five upperclassmen, and Kafeiti and Strehle are two of them.

Middle Country sophomore Zachary Ferrari, who plays football for Newfield, agreed that the conditions were the biggest challenge.

“When you play in this wind it’s very hard to keep the ball inbounds, so it is frustrating at times,” he said. “And we worked on it.”

Struggling to keep the ball in play, Middle Country junior Tyler Berns said he needed to overestimate his shots to compensate for the wind, and put more topspin on the ball. He and his doubles partner, sophomore Joe Cunningham, won both sets, but Berns said he knows he needs to keep a level head.

“Coach is always telling us that tennis is such a mental game,” he said. “You can’t get too confident with today’s win because you never know who you’re going to face next.”

Middle Country hits the road to take on Mount Sinai today, at 4 p.m., while Port Jefferson hosts Mount Sinai tomorrow at 4 p.m.

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