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.”
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.
“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.