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Shannon Sartain

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.”