Girls Tennis Preview: 2011 team left tough act for Mattituck to follow

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Shannon Quinn plays for Southold/Greenport’s first doubles team, which went 7-7 and reached the conference tournament last year.

How does Mattituck top the wonderful high school girls tennis season it enjoyed last year?

Of course, there is always room for improvement, but it sure will not be easy. Look at what the Tuckers did in 2011. Not only did they capture their first league championship in four years — coming off a 0-16 season the year before — but their first and only loss came to Half Hollow Hills West in the first round of the Suffolk County Team Tournament. That capped one of the best seasons in team history. Mattituck finished with a glittering 17-1 record.

A near-perfect season.

The Tuckers brought about comparisons with the 1982 Mattituck team that went 18-1, the sole loss coming to Port Jefferson in a county semifinal.

Defending League VIII champion Mattituck was a dominant force last year, outscoring opponents by 117 1/2-14 1/2. The Tuckers won eight matches by 7-0 scores and another eight by 6-1 scores. Every player in Mattituck’s lineup had a winning record.

“It was extraordinary, extraordinary,” said Jim Christy, who is in his 32nd year as Mattituck’s coach.

But the Tuckers graduated eight players from last year’s team, including Erica Bundrick, the singles player who went 21-4 as a senior and is now a member of the Saint Michael’s College (Vt.) team.

If there is one point Christy wants to drive home to his players, it is that every team point is equal, regardless of whether it is provided by the first singles player, the fourth singles player or the third doubles team. Anyone can be a hero on any given day.

“You need every girl to understand that their point matters, their play matters,” he said.

Although Mattituck has undergone significant change since last fall, the likely four starting singles players — junior Molly Kowalski, senior Kate Freudenberg, junior Kyra Martin and senior Caitlin Penny — were all in the lineup last year. Kowalski and Freudenberg formed an all-league first doubles team last year, posting a 15-3 record. Martin, playing third singles, registered a 17-1 record, and the fourth singles player, Penny, went 11-1.

“We’re going to be very competitive in singles this year,” Christy said. “All four of these girls will get to balls. You have to hit a good shot to hit a winner because they cover the court really well. Now it comes down to: Can they keep the consistency that they displayed last year?”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Molly Kowalski, a junior, is one of Mattituck’s top singles players.

Mattituck has something else, Christy said, that is not to be glossed over: mental toughness from its four singles starters. He said they know how to win.

“We don’t have someone of the ability of Erica, but we’re going to keep the ball in play and be mentally tough,” he said. “It will be interesting to watch. You’re not going to find four girls who are mentally as strong. They just hang in there.”

It appears as if two freshmen, Anna Kowalski and Courtney Penny, both of whom have older sisters on the team, will play first doubles.

The rest of the lineup remains to be sorted out. Nine juniors are under consideration: Melissa Hickox, Mally Fogarty, Autumn Harris, Christine Bieber, Erin Miller, Sydney Goy, Emily Ciamarcone, Cydne Piscatello and Alex Solwinska.

How will Tuckers fit in the league this year?

Christy answered, “We’re going to be in the upper half, I know that.”

The coach said that it is in the formation of the doubles teams where the fun, strategic part of the game comes in for a coach.

Doubles will be a big part of Southold/Greenport’s plans this year. The Clippers (6-8 in 2011) have good experience at doubles and have devoted a lot of time during preseason practice to doubles strategy and ball placement.

A good season is anticipated from the first doubles team of juniors Jessica Rizzo and Shannon Quinn. They went 7-7 last year and played in the conference tournament.

“I think that we’re going to see some really nice matches from them this year,” said fifth-year coach Allison Krupski.

With five players from last year having graduated, including first singles player Sarah Stromski (SUNY/Brockport) and third singles player Lizzie Anderson, some adjustments have to be made. Alexandra Small, a junior, will move up from second singles to first singles, with the No. 2 singles spot going to junior Victoria Piechnik, who played fourth singles last year.

“Alexandra has great ground strokes,” Krupski said. “She’s a good player. She has some finesse. She’s going to have a tough season ahead of her, though. She has some great competitive spirit.”

Two other players who will figure in the lineup somewhere are Shannon Smith and Abby Scharadin. Smith played second and third doubles last year. Scharadin, who was pulled up from the junior varsity team last season, can play singles or doubles.

Emily Hyatt and Jamie Grigonis are singles candidates. Caroline Metz is a doubles player.

“I think that my doubles [players] are going to do really well,” Krupski said, “and I think once my singles get adjusted, I think they’re going to do really well, too.”

Krupski said the junior varsity team has been dropped, and the varsity team is carrying 14 players, not a single senior among them.

“I think it’s going to be a good rebuilding season,” Krupski said. She said her players are “extremely charismatic, really, really funny and very intelligent girls so they make teaching new drills and skills very easy.”

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