DIX HILLS — The Bishop McGann-Mercy High School girls tennis team’s magical ride finally reached an end.
After opening the Suffolk County Team Tournament with a pair of upsets, 24th-seeded McGann-Mercy ran into a wall in the form of the top-seeded Half Hollow Hills East Thunderbirds on a cool, windy Friday afternoon.
Hills East, seeking a return to the county final for the second year in a row, swept all three doubles matches and took three of the four singles contests for a 6-1 quarterfinal win over McGann-Mercy.
It concluded an adventurous tournament for McGann-Mercy, which had toppled the No. 9 Patchogue-Medford Raiders and the No. 8 West Islip Lions en route to their first appearance in the county quarterfinals.
Following her match, one of McGann-Mercy’s first doubles players, senior Kayleigh Macchirole, was asked if it had sunk in that she had played her last high school contest.
“Not yet,” she said. “I’ll probably start crying when it hits me.”
“This season has been amazing,” she continued. “Everybody has picked up their game so much. I didn’t expect to make it this far and [my teammates] made this season so great for me because they made it memorable.”
It was all so unexpected. The Monarchs had lost seven players from last year’s team, including the entire slate of starting singles players. Regardless, in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, they won the League VIII championship and finished among the top eight teams in the county with a 16-3 record.
Even so, McGann-Mercy Coach Mike Clauberg was so upset about how the Monarchs played in their final match that he wasn’t ready to dwell on the achievements. He said it was, without a doubt, the team’s worst match of the season.
“The fundamental mistakes, the errors that were going on today, I was in complete shock,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
He added: “Right now I’m hurt that I don’t think that we played to our potential . . . but at the end of the day, when you look at how far we’ve gone and how much we’ve accomplished, for the first time in school history making it to the elite eight in Suffolk County, yeah, I got to say it’s a good season. Right now, I don’t want to think about that.”
Hills East followed up the victory with a 4-3 decision over the No. 5 Commack Cougars on Saturday. With their third win over Commack this year, the Thunderbirds set up a rematch in the county final against their rivals and fellow League I co-champions, the No. 2 Half Hollow Hills West Colts on Monday at Smithtown East High School. For the second year in a row, Hills West (18-1) defeated Hills East for the county title, 4 1/2-2 1/2.
Even before the final, the painful memory of last year’s loss in the county final to the last team in the world that it wanted to lose to was still fresh in the minds of the Thunderbirds (15-2).
“Yeah, it was horrible,” said Samantha Elgort, Hills East’s first singles player who took second recently in the county individual championships. “It was even worse that it was [losing] to them. It was bad, awful.”
For Hills East, anything short of a county championship was going to be a disappointment. The only loss Hills East or Hills West suffered during the regular season was to each other; they both beat other by 4-3 scores.
“The kids who have been here know what it means to play and beat West,” Hills East Coach Tom Depelteau said. “The victories are sweeter and the defeats are tough to take.”
In Hills East’s win over McGann-Mercy, Elgort, a senior in her sixth varsity season and fifth as a first singles player, did not concede a game as she handled her first-singles opponent, Ashley Yakaboski, 6-0, 6-0. Elgort, who was sixth in New York State last year, made good use of sharp-angled shots and outpointed Yakaboski, 48-12. She won five games without conceding a point.
“More than anything else, she’ll keep the point going,” Depelteau said of Elgort. “She’s willing to hit the ball a hundred times.”
Singles players Ludmila Yamus and Vanessa Scott also supplied Hills East with routine two-set wins. Yamus stopped Elizabeth Barlow in second singles, 6-0, 6-2, and Scott registered a 6-1, 6-1 decision over Lindsay Merker in fourth singles.
Hills East’s sweep of the doubles matches killed McGann-Mercy’s hopes of a third straight upset. The first doubles pairing of Zareena Hamrah and Ali Nemeth defeated Erica Blanco and Macchirole, 6-3, 7-5. Justine De Luise and Rachel Katims were winners at second doubles, beating Taryn Enck and Shannon Merker, 6-4, 6-1. Jordana Cohen teamed up with Molly Ripp to down Stefanie Blanco and Maryann Naleski, 6-3, 6-3.
McGann-Mercy received its only point from its third singles player, Cassidy Lessard. In what might have been the best match of the day, Lessard topped Amanda Loper, 6-1, 7-5 (10-7).