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.”