Say this about Natalie Kopala, her dad taught her well. Very well.
Kopala is a rookie to school tennis, but hardly a rookie to the sport. She said she has been playing since she was about 5 years old.
“I just play with my dad a lot,” she said, referring to her father Andre.
Now the Southold/Greenport high school team is reaping the benefits of those father-daughter matches. Not only is Kopala an eighth-grader playing first singles for Southold, but she is undefeated. She brought her record to 8-0 Tuesday with her 6-1, 6-1 result against Hampton Bays senior Anna Harris at Hampton Bays Elementary School.
Hampton Bays’ first doubles team of senior Dana Klager and sophomore Marissa Kennedy was one point away from losing in the second set. Instead, they rallied to win a tiebreaker and prevail in a three-setter over sophomores Aly Boyle and Ella Neese. The scores were 2-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-2. That gave Hampton Bays (2-8, 2-7 Suffolk County League VIII) the critical fourth team point in a 4-3 triumph.
“It’s crazy,” Hampton Bays coach Diana Vamvakitis said. “I just try and encourage them to never give up. You never know what’s going to happen. Play every point out like it’s the last point.”
That’s the way Kopala plays.
“There’s no doubt about it, she stands out on the team,” Southold coach Mike Carver said. “She’s going to keep getting better and better.”
Kopala won seven straight games bridging the two sets and then closed out the match by taking the final four games, capping it off with her ninth service ace. She put way 19 winners and outpointed Harris, 53-22.
“I just want to play really good and win a lot of matches and get better,” said Kopala, who went 25-for-35 (71.4 percent) on first serves and made only seven unforced errors. “You can get better and better if you practice more and more.”
Southold’s second singles player, Casie Vaccariello, said: “She’s just fantastic. Like watching her hit her forehands, backhands, her volleys, just all her hits are awesome to watch, and then it makes this really cool sound when she hits them. It’s almost like I’m watching the U.S. Open or something. I heard that she was really good, but I didn’t know that she was that good.”
Since preseason practice began, Kopala went to the top of the ladder and has remained there.
“She doesn’t beat herself,” Carver said. “You have to win points. She’ll rally all day with you. An eighth-grader who plays like that, the sky’s the limit.”
Carver also likes what he’s seeing from his team. Southold (2-6, 2-6) has two wins so far from wins over Hampton Bays and Ross. They are the team’s first wins in more than a handful of years, said Carver.
“We’re doing a lot better this year,” Vaccariello said. She continued: “We’ve been practicing a lot more. We’ve been trying harder and pushing our limits.”
After losing nine seniors from last year’s team, there is not a single senior on the current squad. Southold’s lineup Tuesday included two eighth-graders, three freshmen and four sophomores. “We got all the grades except for seniors and seventh-graders,” said Vaccariello.
Vaccariello didn’t win her match but received a nice compliment from her coach. After Vaccariello lost to Jackie Mujsce, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, Carver told her it was the best he had ever seen her play.
“Hearing him say that, it really helps me move along and play better,” she said.
Danielle Henry brought Southold a point at fourth singles, defeating Riley Stotsky, 6-3, 6-3.
Southold’s second doubles team of Ellie Alloway and Liz Garcia came through with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Ivan Campos and Sylvia Roldan.
In third singles, Hampton Bays’ Brianna Hemmings was a 6-1, 6-4 winner over Kaia Rothman. The Baymen also picked up a point from third doubles, Kat Reich and Nikola Zastkova taking a 6-2, 6-2 result against Hannah DeSimone and Julia Mejsak.
“Right after first singles, I think we’re very balanced,” Carver said. “As a coach, it’s a great feeling knowing what’s coming. It’s hard not thinking I got several years with these girls. It’s only going to get better.”
Photo caption: Southold/Greenport eighth-grader Natalie Kopala brought her record to 8-0 Tuesday with her 6-1, 6-1 win over Hampton Bays’ Anna Harris. (Credit: Bob Liepa)