This was the last of these tennis-themed Carver family reunions.
Tuesday marked the ninth time coach Mike Carver’s Southold/Greenport team played against the Riverhead team his daughter, Meghan, plays for. As if that wasn’t enough drama, it was a play-in match between the League VIII co-champions, with the winner earning a place in the Suffolk County Team Tournament.
“It’s been fun and also nerve-wracking at the same time,” Mike Carver said. “I’ll be glad when today’s over.”
When it was over, Riverhead was a 4-3 winner, with fourth singles player Joslyn Lessard securing the decisive fourth team point at Southold High School.
“It’s one and done, so it’s kind of like you’re in the tournament already,” said Riverhead’s first-year coach, Vic Guadagnino, who guided the Blue Waves to their first league title since 1991. “I’m excited the girls rallied behind each other. It’s just always good to see. It’s great to hear them calling each other’s names, making little pyramids on the side, cheering for each other. It’s fantastic. It’s what it’s all about. You know, the true fun in high school sports is watching kids have fun, and we had a lot of fun today.”
Meanwhile, emotions were a good deal more complicated for the Carvers.
Mike Carver hugged Meghan Carver before she headed onto the court. Then, after the matchups were announced, he gave the senior a loving tap on the head and wished her good luck in her first singles match.
Meghan Carver needed all the luck she could get against super sophomore Natalie Kopala, who had taken third place in the Division IV Tournament on Monday. Carver, the only player to take four games in a set from Kopala in league play this season, was beaten, 6-0, 6-1, in 37 minutes.
What was the breakfast discussion like at the Carver home this morning?
“To be honest with you, we were talking more about college preparation stuff that we still had to fine-tune,” Mike Carver said. “That’s how we distract ourselves from tennis. We talk about college and the college search. I don’t think we talked about tennis at all this morning.”
Asked about playing against her father’s team, Meghan Carver acknowledged, “It’s a really weird feeling.”
Was this ninth matchup over a four-year span any different?
“Yeah,” she said. “I think the stress is definitely higher and the stakes are definitely higher.”
Some of that stress could be attributed to Kopala, who brings a lot of game to the court. The two played some entertaining, long points, but Kopala’s quality showed. She put away 22 winners to Carver’s two, made half as many unforced errors (seven) and outpointed her opponent, 50-18. Kopala even scored three winners while returning serve. “I like doing that a lot,” she said. “That’s like my favorite shot.”
Meghan Carver said Kopala is “tough to play against, but I like playing with her because it just makes me play that much better.”
Both players said they dealt with leg pain during the match. Kopala said her left leg was bothering her after having played two matches Friday, two matches Saturday, practicing Sunday and playing the divisional consolation match Monday.
Carver iced her right knee after the match, as she customarily does. Her father said she has a bone ossicle lodged in her patellar tendon that has been causing her pain throughout her four-year tennis career. He said nothing could be done about it previously until a growth plate closed. She has an operation scheduled for Nov. 6 to fix the problem.
How much of this aching pain, sharp at times, does she have to go through when she plays?
“It’s a crazy amount,” she said. “It’s kind of hard to get through.”
Riverhead (12-1, 9-1), which is awaiting the release of the playoff brackets, won three of the four singles matches. Lessard’s 6-1, 6-0 victory over Kaitlyn Duffy sealed the team win. “I knew I had to win,” said Lessard.
Earlier, Gina Bassemir (6-1, 6-0 over Ellie Alloway) and Isabella Pagnozzi (6-1, 6-1 over Danielle Henry) scored wins.
Riverhead’s second doubles team of Lilly Kneidl and Delu Rizzo defeated Hannah DeSimone and Camryn Koke, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-4.
The most competitive match of the day was at third doubles, with Southold’s Julia Mejsak and Ella Neese prevailing over Jordan Curran and Sofia Salgado, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 10-6.
Southold (9-5, 9-1) took first doubles through Jessica Latham and Reese Thompson, 6-0, 6-1 winners over Jill Shackel and Leah Zenk.
The bragging rights in these Carver-Carver duels belongs to the daughter. Mike Carver said Riverhead has an 8-1 record against Southold during Meghan’s time on the team.
When it was all over, Mike Carver gave his daughter another hug. “I’m proud of her,” he said.
Meghan was asked if the two would talk at dinner later that night.
She smiled and said, “We’ll see,” chuckling.
Photo caption: Southold/Greenport’s Natalie Kopala put away 22 winners in her 6-0, 6-1 win over Riverhead’s Meghan Carver. (Credit: Bob Liepa)