Girls Tennis: Tuckers remain unbeaten at Riverhead’s expense

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Riverhead's fourth singles player, Alex Quintana, took her first loss in six matches.

Perhaps it’s best to refer to the old “chicken and the egg” riddle when discussing the value of confidence to a tennis player. What comes first, confidence or winning?

Winning most assuredly helps confidence, and confidence is needed to win.

Erica Bundrick is enjoying both these days, playing with confidence and winning, rather handily, too, one might add. The Mattituck Tuckers’ first singles player has won her first six matches this season, and each of them in two sets.

“From the neck down it was always there,” Mattituck Coach Jim Christy said. “It seems the real improvement has been from the neck up.”

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Olivia Cardinale of Mattituck saw her record go to 6-0 when her opponent, Meyling Zuniga, retired with a knee injury in the third set.

Bundrick said there was no single match or event that provoked a sudden confidence boost in her, just a gradual buildup.

“I feel like it helps a lot,” she said.

It’s the mental part of tennis that can often mean the difference between winning and losing. Just ask Riverhead Blue Waves senior Sandra Ruttkayova, who like Bundrick is in her second year of playing first singles.

“You can have the abilities … but if you don’t have the confidence, you’re not going to win,” Ruttkayova said. “The biggest difference between this year and last year was that this year, it was my second year playing first singles, which is something that most girls don’t get to do. I knew what I [could] do, and I knew that if I keep doing that to the best of my ability, I’ll have a chance every time I step out on the court. I guess with experience comes confidence and knowledge of what your capabilities are.”

Bundrick’s abilities are considerable. The senior has been in Mattituck’s singles lineup since she was an eighth-grader. Last year she finished third in the Conference IV Tournament and advanced to the second round of the Suffolk County Tournament.

On Monday, Bundrick breezed to a 6-1, 6-0 win over Ruttkayova as the undefeated Tuckers (6-0 overall and in Suffolk County League VIII) defeated the Blue Waves, 7-0, in Riverhead. Bundrick seemed to have a shot for each situation: cross-court forehand blasts, drop shots, lobs.

“What I think Erica has improved a lot on is she seems more relaxed,” Christy said. “She seems to be more in control. She seems to be more comfortable, and that translates into better shots. She doesn’t worry as much. I think you see an air of confidence as she approaches each match.”

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Caitlin Penny of Mattituck won in three sets against Alex Quintana of Riverhead.

The match was tidy and quick. Bundrick outscored Ruttkayova, 52-12, and held her pointless in seven games. The work Bundrick has been putting into her serve was readily apparent. She had 12 service aces against two double faults and kept 68 percent of her first serves in play to 32 percent for Ruttkayova.

“I found that even when I thought I hit a winner, she’d get it back, and so you’d have to hit like three winners just to get a chance, just to get her off-balance,” said Ruttkayova (4-2). “Erica, she just kept her focus, and that’s what’s important in tennis. You have to forget about the last shot.”

Mattituck’s entire singles and doubles lineup remained unbeaten.

Singles players Olivia Cardinale, Kyra Martin and Caitlin Penny all registered wins that made them 6-0 as well. Cardinale’s second singles match was cut short with her leading, 4-1, in the third set when Meyling Zuniga retired with a knee injury. Cardinale had won the first set on a tiebreaker, 7-4, and dropped the second one, 6-3.

A battle between two fourth-singles players who entered the match with 5-0 records was extended to three sets before Penny edged Alex Quintana, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5.

Martin scored a 6-4, 6-1 win over Charlotte Palmer at second singles.

Doubles was also kind to the Tuckers. The first doubles team of Kate Freudenberg and Molly Kowalski beat Juana Dobrzynski and Lydia Keiffert, 6-1, 6-2. A second doubles match involving all seniors saw Kate Mangiamele and Nora Zuhoski get the better of Milena Chrzanowska and Yevgeniya Komzyuk, 6-4, 6-0. In another all-senior affair, the third doubles pairing of twins Molly and Siobhan Nolan recorded a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Brittney Martens and Nicole Treadwell.

“It was definitely one of those matches that you look on the calendar and know that’s going to be a tough one,” Ruttkayova said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect other than that they were going to be good. I definitely wasn’t expecting for them to be that good, but I guess you’re always going to have teams better than you.”

Riverhead (4-2, 4-2) has enjoyed a nice start this year as well, falling one win short of matching its 5-1 start to last season.

“A lot of the kids are near the same ability level, so they push each other,” Riverhead Coach Jerry Duvall said. “They’ve come with a great attitude. They’ve been practicing hard.”

Meanwhile, the Tuckers, who were dropped down from League VII after last season, keep winning. They are the only undefeated team in the league.

“It’s been good so far,” said Bundrick.

Bundrick will face her biggest test so far this season on Wednesday when she plays against Shoreham-Wading River sophomore Aimee Manfredo. The last time they met, Bundrick defeated her, 6-3, 6-2, in the quarterfinals of last year’s conference tournament.

There is no doubt whose corner Christy will be in.

“Next to the family, I’m her biggest fan. I really am,” he said. “Anything that she accomplishes has truly come through hard work. I mean, she has talent, but you got to put in the time. Erica has put in the time, and as a result, you have to root for her.”

[email protected]