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.”