An unusual scenario unfolded on the first singles tennis court at Mattituck High School last Wednesday. Liz Dwyer was struggling.
That is indeed an odd sight because it doesn’t happen often.
Some days everything goes smoothly and life is easy, a piece of cake. This wasn’t one of them for Dwyer. Her play was erratic at times and her serve was inconsistent (55 percent on first serves and 73 percent on second serves), with as many double faults as service aces (eight). Perhaps it was a sign of things to come earlier in the day when she realized she had forgotten her lucky visor at home.
And yet, despite all of this, she won. The junior persevered and used her determination to carry her through. She won the last two games of each set for a 7-5, 7-5 win over Southampton senior Cecelia Scheurer.
“And that’s her bad game,” marveled teammate Emily Mowdy.
“Blame it on my visor,” Dwyer joked after Scheurer made her work hard for her seventh win in eight matches.
While it wasn’t always pretty to watch, the match underscored how much of a competitor Dwyer is.
Dwyer first turned to tennis when she was a seventh-grader. She had played as a soccer goalkeeper for one year, found it boring and decided to pick up a racket and give tennis a try. She said she liked the sport immediately.
After spending one year on the junior varsity team, Dwyer made the varsity squad as an eighth-grader. This is her third year as Mattituck’s No. 1 singles player.
Mowdy, a junior, has been Dwyer’s practice partner since they were seventh-graders and has seen the transformation as Dwyer committed herself to tennis.
“It’s literally like indescribable,” Mowdy said. “One day she was just hitting back and forth, and then she came back and was hitting winners like left and right.”
Coach Mike Huey said Dwyer is a tough player who combines consistency with power. “She very rarely makes a mistake,” he said.
What sets Dwyer apart from many players is her sheer athleticism. She is well-known for being a standout basketball player for the Tuckers, too.
Rich Wingfield, who coaches Southampton’s girls tennis and girls basketball teams, ranks Dwyer among the top three high school female athletes in Suffolk County. He said she has added strength to her athleticism and has an uncanny ability to reach for the ball while her feet are moving.
“I’ve just seen her grow and grow,” he said. “She just overwhelms people with her athleticism. Her tennis, by and large, average. She’s not doing anything so big. It’s just that what she does is she backs it up with great defense.”
When Dwyer, an All-County player last year, was told of Wingfield’s remarks, she said: “Well, I know there’s still so much I can work on, so if he thinks I’m a three, I can’t wait until what I am next year because I really think I can improve even more, so I won’t stop until I’m at the top.”
It’s all part of Dwyer’s philosophy: Don’t settle for average when you can be great.
“If God gave you the potential, don’t waste it,” she said. “That’s my theory. You don’t want to be like everybody else.”
Dwyer hasn’t been average. Through eight matches, her only loss was to William Floyd senior Emily Fernandez, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3. The other matches she took in two sets, winning 86 of 110 games.
So, tennis vs. basketball. Which sport is her favorite?
“They’re both so different that I’d say they’re both my favorite because basketball is such a team sport and you have so many memories you make, and then tennis is more, it is a team concept, but once you’re out on the court, it’s just you,” she said. “Some parts of me like that. I love both of them in different aspects.”
Dwyer’s attraction to tennis is she can go as far as her own talents will take her.
“That’s what I love about it,” she said. “I could make it to the U.S. Open. It just depends how focused I stay and how badly I want it.”
Dwyer has learned the peculiar demands of tennis. Staying focused through an entire match is vitally important — and tiring.
“It’s a lot of moving your feet quick and thinking, so it’s mentally and physically draining,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know about that. That’s why tennis is a bunch of crazy people.”
Dwyer, known for her engaging sense of humor, is also getting the job done in the classroom with a 97.6 grade-point average.
On the tennis court, she said her forehand needs some work as well as her second serve.
During an interview after last Wednesday’s match, Dwyer said, “I think the best athletes, they just have to forget about the bad days and just move forward because it’s pointless just staying in the past.”
Photo caption: Mattituck juniors Emily Mowdy, left, and Liz Dwyer have been practice partners since they were seventh-graders. (Credit: Bob Liepa)