TUCKERS 7, CLIPPERS 0
The harder a player hits the ball in tennis doesn’t always translate into more success. Sure, every player would love to crush the ball across the net, leaving the opponent flat-footed and helpless. But more important is placing the ball.
That’s one of the lessons Jim Christy tries to instill in his Mattituck girls tennis team.
“The idea of being able to control the ball and put it where you want it, if you’re a good athlete, you can drive people nuts,” Christy said.
So far this season, the Tuckers have been driving opposing teams nuts.
Monday’s 7-0 win over Southold/Greenport gave the Tuckers an 8-0 record in League VIII and kept them firmly in the driver’s seat toward a league title.
The Tuckers may not have a team with the hardest hitters, but their depth and attention to detail has them headed toward a perfect league season.
“We’re at a place where we play every point like it’s the last point of the match,” Christy said.
That mentality makes the Tuckers a pesky group.
Their top three singles players, who are all on a similar skill level, roam the court with a simple mindset: Keep the ball in play and wear down the opponent.
“The only way you beat any one of these singles players is you got to be a player who has the ability to hit with some pop,” Christy said.
Their goal is to keep the ball in play until someone makes a mistake.
“Quite frankly, it’s not going to be us,” Christy said. “These kids are too mentally tough.”
Seniors Molly Kowalski and Kyra Martin and eighth-grader Liz Dwyer all won in straight sets Monday against the Clippers. Kowalski won 6-1, 6-0 against Alexandra Small at first singles. Martin defeated senior Victoria Piechnik, 6-0, 6-1, at second singles and Martin won 6-0, 6-1 over freshman Willow Wilcenski.
The single lineup has remained consistent all season and the top three players have all enjoyed success. Kowalski, who’s been tasked with facing each team’s top player, is 5-3. Martin is 6-2 and Dwyer is still unbeaten at 8-0.
At times in practice, Christy will combine his singles players to challenge the doubles team. The benefit is two-fold. The doubles team gets to practice against the best players on the team. And playing doubles opens up the singles players to a new style of play that ultimately benefits them in their own matches.
Christy said by playing doubles it helps the girls improve at attacking the net, rather than fall into the routine of always staying back.
“That’s how they’re ending points,” he said. “They don’t end points from the baseline. They end points when you bring them to the net. In the past, they would get there and not feel comfortable so they would run back.”
That ultimately would lead to more rallies where the players stay deadlocked, hitting the ball back and forth without finishing.
“You get a better angle because you’re closer to the net,” Christy said. “And they’re willing to do that now, which is great.”
Mattituck’s first doubles team of Anna Kowalski and Courtney Penny won 6-1, 6-0 against Jess Rizzo and Shannon Quinn. The second doubles team of Melissa Hickox and Christine Bieber won 6-4, 6-1 against Caroline Metz and Caroline Gehring.
The Clippers have been playing all season with a short roster, which has made squeezing out any wins a challenge. The Clippers fell to 0-8 in League VIII and 0-9 overall. The team forfeited fourth singles and third doubles Monday.
Christy said while the scores may have appeared lopsided in Monday’s match, the play was competitive on the court. Southold coach Allison Krupski said that’s the way the season has gone for the Clippers.
“While we’ve been losing pretty steadily, the individual points per game have been pretty competitive,” she said. “The kids have played competitively all year.”
Playing with a shortened roster and forfeiting spots in the lineup can be draining on a team. But Krupski said the players, seven seniors and one freshman, have taken the challenge with a positive outlook.
“It hasn’t deterred them from having a fresh outlook every time they’ve gone out there,” she said.
Wilcenski got a chance Monday to play up a spot. Normally a second doubles or fourth singles player, the freshman got to play third singles.
“She’s really scrappy,” Krupski said. “She’s very athletic and she’s always hustling. She’ll be somebody to watch develop over the next couple of years.”
Mattituck has four matches remaining to try to close out the league season with a perfect record. The Tuckers will face a challenge Wednesday against Riverhead, a team they beat 4-3 the first time around. The Tuckers face Shoreham-Wading River Friday.