Natalie Kopala had experienced Senior Days before — as a non-senior — so she had a rough idea of what to expect.
Still, even a high school tennis player of her caliber admitted to feeling some nerves on the occasion.
The spotlight was on Kopala and two other Southold/Greenport seniors, Ellie Alloway and Camryn Koke, for a prematch ceremony Thursday that featured flowers, photos and remarks by coach Mike Carver. And, perhaps most importantly, a resounding 7-0 Suffolk County League III win over shorthanded Southampton at Southold High School.
It all made for a pleasant memory for the trio.
“The energy was different,” Kopala said. “Everyone was just like making it the seniors’ day. Like everyone was rooting for us and like pumping us up because it’s like our special day.”
This has been a special season for the First Settlers in general and Kopala in particular. By swiftly dispatching senior Shelby De Los Santos, 6-0, 6-0, Kopala remained undefeated this season at 8-0.
A three-time all-county player and Suffolk quarterfinalist this past spring season when she went 13-5, Kopala has been a fixture for the First Settlers ever since she took over the first singles position as an eighth-grader. Carver didn’t have records readily available, but he estimated that Kopala’s league record alone over her career is something like 58-3.
Kopala has added finesse to her power game, and can place a variety of shots where they need to go.
“She would hit hard, hit hard, hit hard,” Carver said. “Now there’s more to her game. She’s got a slice, she’s got a drop. You know, she comes in [to the net] now, and she’s a smarter player, you know. It’s experience.”
Jessica Latham, a junior second singles player who was a 6-1, 6-1 winner over Caroline Wilutis, knows full well what Kopala can do because she gets to play against her in practice. “Coach Carver makes me do it because he thinks it will make me better, which it does, but I never win,” said Latham.
Not only does Kopala have physical ability, but she has mental toughness as well. “I’ve never seen her have a breakdown,” said Latham.
Kopala turned in a clean match, putting away 28 winners. She committed only three unforced errors and did not double fault. She noted that her serve has improved as well as her court coverage. De Los Santos managed only three points off her in the first set. For the match, Kopala outpointed her, 48-10.
“I’m trying to like make sure I get to each and every single ball, like not give up a single point because I never want to be lazy,” said Kopala.
Having a tennis court in her backyard has been a big plus for Kopala, a year-round player who wants to play in college. She hasn’t made her college choice yet.
Meanwhile, Southold (6-3, 6-2) has been enjoying its finest season in as long as Carver can remember. The team is on track to make it to the playoffs.
“We’ve got some girls that are playing all year-round,” he said. “They’re taking it seriously.”
The program looks healthy, too. Southold’s varsity, junior varsity and junior high school teams have a total of 39 players, said Carver.
Southampton (1-8, 1-8) brought only eight players to the match and was forced to forfeit third singles. All the matches that were played went Southold’s way. Nyla Olsen (6-1, 6-0 over Georgia Wilutis) and Alloway (6-0, 6-0 over Elizabeth Ayavaca) completed the sweep of singles. Both doubles matches were also decided in straight sets. Katelyn Duffy and Koke were 6-2, 6-0 winners over London Best and Haley Thayer while Camille Ramone and Olivia Misiukiewicz beat Ines Barros and Monique Fuchs, 6-1, 6-1.
“We’re the best that we’ve been in a long time, and it’s our last year with Natalie,” Latham said. “We had the security blanket of having Natalie on our team.”
Kopala, reflecting on her high school career, said it is flying by quickly. “Yeah, I’m really gonna miss it,” she said. “It’s like making me want to cry. I won’t be back here” next year.
A virtual automatic W, Kopala’s absence will be felt.
Said Carver, “She’s gonna be missed, no doubt about it.”