10/08/12 6:25pm
10/08/2012 6:25 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Kate Freudenberg won her third singles match in two sets as part of Mattituck’s sweep of Shelter Island.

TUCKERS 7, INDIANS 0

Considering that the Mattituck girls tennis team lost eight players from last year’s team, the Tuckers have done quite well for themselves this season. While they have helped themselves to another winning season, the Tuckers will need some help if they are to retain a share of the Suffolk County League VIII championship.

Mattituck breezed to victory on Monday, but it may be too little, too late. By beating Shelter Island’s first-year varsity team, 7-0, Mattituck kept its mathematical chances of securing a share of the league title alive, but that’s about it. In reality, the Tuckers may have said goodbye to their league title hopes with a 4-3 loss to first-place Eastport/South Manor on Friday.

In order for second-place Mattituck (10-3, 10-2) to catch up to Eastport/South Manor (14-1, 12-0), the Tuckers would not only need to win both of their remaining matches against Hampton Bays and Southampton, but they would need the Sharks to drop one of their two remaining matches against Shelter Island and Center Moriches.

“We need someone to beat them for us,” said Mattituck’s junior second singles player, Kyra Martin.

Not very likely.

Mattituck coach Jim Christy, a realist, said, “We’re going to end up in second.”

That means the Tuckers will miss out on the playoffs, but it doesn’t detract from what the team has accomplished this season. Strong, consistent play from the singles lineup of Molly Kowalski (10-3), Martin (12-1), Kate Freudenberg (13-0) and Caitlin Penny (12-1) has been the key ingredient in this winning recipe. The four seniors, who have been joined by 12 new additions to the squad, bring a professional, all-business approach to the court.

It could be argued that Mattituck has the best singles lineup in the league. The Tuckers have swept singles points in all of their matches except for the two they played against Eastport/South Manor and one against Southampton. In each of those matches Mattituck won three of the four singles contests.

“I guess I noticed after maybe the fourth or fifth match that they were going to be very tough to beat because they don’t beat themselves, they just don’t,” Christy said. “All four of them — it’s hard to describe — they just seem to be able to have the ability to stay in the moment. It’s like, I almost know if it gets to the 3-3 point, we’re going to win it, and if it’s the match point, we’re going to win it, and I think they believe that. They seem so calm, so relaxed.”

It sure seemed like that on a cool Monday afternoon when Mattituck had little trouble winning on its home courts against winless Shelter Island (0-13, 0-13). Once again, Mattituck’s singles lineup took care of business. Kowalski (6-3, 6-3 over Lisa Kaasik), Martin (6-1, 6-1 over Corrine Mahoney) and Freudenberg (6-0, 6-1 over Brianna Kimmelman) won their matches in two sets. Mattituck’s fourth singles player, Penny, took a win by forfeit.

But a good tennis team does not live by singles alone. Mattituck’s doubles teams kept up their end as well, winning two-set affairs. Perhaps the most competitive was in third doubles. Molly Fogarty and Autumn Harris prevailed in a first-set tiebreaker against Caitlin Binder and Madi Hallman, 7-4, before taking the second set, 6-1.

In the other doubles matches, Anna Kowalski and Courtney Penny beat Serina Kaasik and Taylor Sherman, 6-2, 6-0, and Christine Bieber and Melissa Hickox were 6-3, 6-2 winners over Nicole Poleshuk and Evi Saunders.

“Everyone just plays their game,” said Martin, who put 26 of her 29 first serves in play and outpointed Mahoney, 49-17. “Everyone’s an integral part of the wins.”

As a first-year team, it’s not surprising that Shelter Island has taken its lumps and is still awaiting its first varsity win.

“It’s not going to happen this year,” said coach Sue Warner, whose team has one match remaining against Eastport/South Manor.

Shelter Island made the jump to varsity tennis after two years of middle school and three years of junior varsity tennis. But adversity struck the Indians when they lost the services of two of their top singles players, Keri Ann Mahoney and Melissa Ames. Mahoney, who was an undefeated second singles player for the junior varsity team last year, underwent knee surgery, and Ames opted to play volleyball this fall.

“It hurts,” said Lisa Kaasik.

But this season has been about more than wins and losses for the Indians.

“Obviously our record doesn’t show how close we’ve been, but it’s been fun because we did J.V. for two years and it’s been more serious this year, but I think it hasn’t really changed our energy or our feeling for tennis,” Lisa Kaasik said. “We come out here to have fun.”

Warner said Shelter Island will likely go back to playing at the junior varsity level next year because of the young players she will have. But that doesn’t mean that the Indians haven’t learned a thing or two this season.

“I think they’re learning about tennis,” Warner said. “They’re learning sportsmanship because they’re not winning, so they need to learn to be courteous.”

“They’re resilient and they come back laughing every day,” she continued. “The young kids have really been a spark on my team this year. You know, winning isn’t everything. I think they’re still having fun, which helps. It helps the pain of losing.”

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09/10/12 7:27pm
09/10/2012 7:27 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck first singles player Molly Kowalski has won her first three matches this season in two sets, as has the rest of the team’s singles lineup.

TUCKERS 7, CLIPPERS 0

A tennis player needs more than just tennis equipment to succeed on the court. Along with a racket and a pair of sneakers, a winning player requires an intangible quality that cannot be seen or touched, but is most certainly noticed, a little something called mental toughness.

For all of its physical exertions, tennis can be an especially grueling mental game. Players are put to the test time and time again. Can a player stand up to the pressure of match point? Shrug off a mistake and move on to the next point? Deal with adversity? Handle distractions?

The Mattituck High School girls tennis team may have four players with that sort of mental toughness; at least coach Jim Christy thinks so. When it comes to the mental game, Christy proudly points to the four singles players in his lineup: junior Molly Kowalski, junior Kyra Martin, senior Kate Freudenberg and senior Caitlin Penny.

Based on their performance so far in this young season, it appears as if singles remains a strength for the Tuckers.

All four of them cruised to wins Monday when the Tuckers defeated Southold/Greenport, 7-0, at Mattituck High School. All four players have 3-0 records, with all of their wins being two-setters.

Defending league champion Mattituck is 3-0 overall and in Suffolk County League VIII. Southold/Greenport is 1-1, 1-1.

Christy described the mind-set of the foursome as being like this: “You’re going to have to play well to beat me because I’m not going to be sloppy. I’m not going to be giving up points. I’m going to make you earn the points that you win.”

That sort of attitude was evident Monday when the four Tuckers won by nearly identical scores. Kowalski, Martin and Penny earned 6-1, 6-1 wins, respectively, over Alexandra Small, Victoria Piechnik and Emily Hyatt. Freudenberg was a 6-0, 6-1 winner over Jamie Grigonis.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Alexandra Small of Southold/Greenport returning a shot against Mattituck’s Molly Kowalski during their first singles match.

They did this on an afternoon when the wind was gusting, playing games with the ball.

“It’s not easy when you’re playing in wind conditions,” Christy said. “All four of them, they don’t get distracted, whether it’s the wind, the noise or something else going on, it just doesn’t get inside their head.”

Kowalski’s play was typical of what Christy was talking about. She put 92 percent of her first serves in play, did not commit a double fault, and made a measly three unforced errors. It’s no wonder she outpointed Small, 54-25.

Asked about the value of mental toughness, Kowalski said, “It helps.”

Shannon Quinn, a junior who plays first doubles for Southold/Greenport, knows the importance of the mind game in tennis.

“It’s definitely a mental game over a physical game,” she said. “You have to have the right mind-set, definitely. The score can change so dramatically. You have to keep your mind in the game.”

Southold/Greenport coach Allison Krupski said a player’s mentality can have a “huge” impact on a match. “The mental game is sometimes even bigger than the physical game in tennis,” she said. “Momentum changes. It can have a huge affect on the psyche and the game can be over before you know it.”

Singles is new to Kowalski, who played first doubles last season with Freudenberg. It’s a different sort of game.

“In doubles you have someone else you can talk to in the match and to pump you up, but in singles it’s all yourself,” Kowalski said. “It comes from you.”

The most competitive matches on Monday were in first and second doubles. Mattituck’s No. 1 doubles team of Anna Kowalski and Courtney Penny held off Quinn and Jessica Rizzo, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. In second doubles, Christine Bieber and Sydney Goy prevailed over Abby Scharadin and Shannon Smith, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Third doubles also went Mattituck’s way, with Melissa Hickox and Morgan Wilsberg enjoying a 6-1, 6-0 defeat of Amy Kandora and Caroline Metz.

Mattituck’s top four singles players — the only returning players from last year’s team that went 17-1 — are also close in terms of talent. That makes for competitive practices, with the players making each other better.

Molly Kowalski, referring to Martin and herself, said: “We’ll play each other. I’ll win one time, she’ll win another time. It literally goes back and forth. So, any day, it can be any given person.”

So far, the four singles players have not disappointed.

“They have a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm,” Christy said. “They’re very social. They’re very nice, wonderful kids, but when they get onto the tennis court, they become very serious players. You know, that’s a real blessing. If someone does beat them, it’s going to be because they were very good.”

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09/04/12 3:06pm
09/04/2012 3:06 PM

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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09/06/11 2:47pm
09/06/2011 2:47 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Erica Bundrick of Mattituck took third place in the Conference IV Tournament and was a county quarterfinalist last year.

The 2010 high school girls tennis season was a losing one for the Mattituck Tuckers, but it wasn’t the wins and losses that made an impact on their longtime coach, Jim Christy. Christy considers what happened to his inexperienced team last year to have been a success story.

“Last year was terrific,” said Christy, who is in his 31st year as the team’s coach. “I worried that with the inexperience we had last year, the girls would either become frustrated or become a little unhappy, but just the opposite happened. They just realized that they had to step it up and they did. By the end of the season, we were a far superior team than what entered the season. … These kids stepped up, and I was so impressed with how competitive they became by the end of the year. They improved. They improved immensely.”

The dividends of that improvement should pay off this year.

Mattituck, which has been moved from Suffolk County League VII to League VIII, is rich with returning players. First and foremost among them is Erica Bundrick, a senior first singles player who won four of her last five matches in the league season last year. She also took third place in the Conference IV Tournament and reached the final eight of the county tournament.

“She really turned the corner,” Christy said. “If she can start the way she ended last year, she’ll be very tough. In fact, she’ll be unbeatable. It’s a different Erica this year.”

So many other players are back, too. Mallaigh Nolan and her twin sister, Siobhan Nolan, return along with Nora Zuhoski, Erin Pozzolano, Kathryn Mangiamele, Olivia Cardinale, Jennifer Lengyel. Catharine Freudenberg and Molly Kowalski. The only new additions are Kyra Martin and Caitlin Penny.

“We’re going to have a very good year this year,” Christy said. “We’re going to have depth. We’re going to be competitive with any of the teams that we play.”

As for the league title, Christy said: “There’s no question that we’ll be in contention. We should be one of the favored teams, but again, you decide that on the tennis court. Other than Erica, the rest of the girls are solid players, but they’re going to have to be consistent. They’re going to have to be patient.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Southold/Greenport's first singles player, Sara Stromski, was an all-league choice last year.

Control and consistency.

Those have been the watchwords for the Southold/Greenport Clippers (4-8), who face an unusual, although welcomed, situation: Their entire lineup is back.

Allison Krupski, who is in her fourth year as the team’s coach, said her players have been watching the U.S. Open and noting that the winners are the players who make the least mistakes.

“We always tell them it’s not about hitting the ball as hard as you can,” Krupski said. “It’s about hitting the ball over the net to a certain spot.”

It’s all about control and consistency.

Sara Stromski, a senior first singles player, is a good example of that. Stromski, in her third varsity season, was an all-league player last year along with Elizabeth Anderson, a senior who played third singles. Alexandra Small, a sophomore, played second singles, and Victoria Piechnik, a sophomore who is the only Greenporter on the squad, was the No. 4 singles player.

Shannon Quinn and Jessica Rizzo were paired at first doubles for most of the season. The second doubles team consisted of Katherine Bertschi and Shannon Smith. Bertschi, a senior, is recovering from an appendix operation and was not expected to be cleared to practice until Thursday. Brittany Calderale and Mackenzie Feeley made up the third doubles team.

The only new player is Alison Bishop, a senior who is a first-year player.

Krupski said she doesn’t expect to see many changes from last year’s lineup.

“While they improved a lot and have some experience, we do face some tough opponents,” she said. “The first and second singles players are going to have tough matches no matter what.”

But experience has made the Clippers better — and determined.

“They are really dedicated,” Krupski said. “They don’t get frustrated. They really want to be better. They want to win.”

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