Coming off the biggest shock in his coaching life, Mike Clauberg declared that he isn’t making predictions any more.
After his Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs lost eight players from the previous season, Clauberg and the rest of the Suffolk County high school girls tennis world watched in amazement last year as the Monarchs advanced further in the county team tournament than they ever had before. Following upsets of the No. 9 seeded Patchogue-Medford Raiders and the No. 8 West Islip Lions in their first two playoff matches, the No. 24 Monarchs reached the quarterfinals before bowing out to the No. 1 Half Hollow Hills East Thunderbirds. It was a heady season for the Monarchs (16-3), who went unbeaten in League VII for their third straight league championship.
“I got to say that was pretty huge,” Clauberg said. “I think everybody was pretty shocked, players, the administration, myself. None of us believed we did as well as we did.”
It has been a wonderful run for the Monarchs. Their record over the past three years is 46-5. The team has built a reputation for itself and more than a few undoubtedly are wondering what the Monarchs have in store for 2011.
“We’ll find out,” Clauberg said. “I think we should be able to compete. Whether we take last or we take first, I think we’ll be competitive.”
The Monarchs have been moved to League VIII, but that may not be a demotion. Clauberg said League VIII could be the second-best league in the county, with traditionally talented teams like the Westhampton Beach Hurricanes, the East Hampton Bonackers and the Southampton Mariners to contend with. To illustrate how well-respected the league is, Clauberg said the Monarchs could win only two or three regular-season matches and yet still receive the No. 8 seed in the county team tournament.
“This is going to make our girls better,” Clauberg said. “Now we’re competing at one of the toughest levels possible in Suffolk County. They’re putting us in the upper echelon of teams, and we’ll see where it plays out.”
Last year, the first doubles team of Erica Blanco and Kayleigh Macchirole reached the third round in the Conference IV Tournament, as did the second doubles pairing of Shannon Merker and Taryn Enck. While their partners have graduated, both Blanco, a senior, and Merker, a sophomore, are back.
Ashley Yakaboski, a senior who played first singles last year, and Cassidy Lessard, a junior who played third singles, were all-league selections.
Stephanie Blanco, who is Erica Blanco’s younger sister, also saw court time last year as did Caitlin Lawler and Marianne Naleski.
Alyssa Mize, Jackie Read, Terry Spath and Catherine Andes are also varsity veterans. Meanwhile, Jessica Allen, Sarah Guasp and Delaney Macchirole, Kayleigh’s younger sister, are new to varsity tennis.
While it may not be as strong as past McGann-Mercy teams, make no mistake, the Monarchs are still a team to be taken seriously.
“Even our players who don’t start, they’re good tennis players,” Clauberg said. “Our starting 10, they can all hit the ball.”
The 2010 season was something of a surprise to the Riverhead Blue Waves (10-4) as well. Despite having many new players, the Blue Waves still finished in third place in League VIII.
“Hopefully, I’m going to have some surprises this year,” said Riverhead Coach Jerry Duvall.
With a roster full of tough names to spell that are even harder to pronounce, the Blue Waves head into the season with senior Sandra Ruttkayova entrenched in the first singles spot. Two former doubles players, Meyling Zuniga and Charlotte Palmer, are competing for the second singles position. Lydia Keiffert holds the fourth singles spot.
Keiffert and Palmer went 9-2 as a doubles team last season.
“Those first three players, any of them can win on a given day,” Duvall said, “so it’s a matter of how consistently they play.”
At the start of this week, Milena Chrzanowska and Yevgeniya Komzyuk were paired at first doubles. Juana Dobrzynski and Alex Quintana (who went 7-4 in her first year of varsity play) or Nicole Treadwell were considered for second doubles. Klaudia Szczesba may be in the mix at third doubles.
The Blue Waves return 10 players, seven of whom were in the lineup last year. Brittany Martens is one of the players who bring varsity experience.
Michelle Behr and Amber Nicholson are new to the team along with Szczesba.
“They played with no fear last year,” Duvall said of his players. “But the league isn’t any easier than it was last year.”
Duvall said League VIII has become “incredibly strong” with the additions of the Mattituck Tuckers and the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats.
“I want to see them advance and improve like they did last season,” Duvall said of his players. “They really love to drill and they couldn’t try any harder. You can’t ask for any more than that.”
Entering her fourth year of varsity tennis, Shoreham-Wading River sophomore Aimee Manfredo is ready to take the next step.
As a freshman last season, Manfredo took an undefeated record into the Conference IV Tournament before ultimately falling in the quarterfinals. She finished one round shy of advancing to the county tournament.
“She’s hitting even stronger this year,” said Shoreham Coach Debbie Lutjen. “Her goal should be to advance to the county tournament. I think she’s capable of that.”
Manfredo, 17-1 last year, is a year-round player who has a strong all-around game, Lutjen said.
“She has very solid ground strokes, but she’s also strong at the net,” Lutjen said. “She has strong approach shots and a good net game.”
Manfredo’s lone loss came against Erica Bundrick of Mattituck, whom she had beaten during the regular season.
With Manfredo locked into the first singles spot this season, a position she has held since eighth grade, it gives the Wildcats flexibility to try several different options throughout the rest of the lineup. Lutjen said many of the players could see time at both singles and doubles throughout the season.
The Wildcats have nine seniors on the team, including Nanette Stirpe, who saw time at both singles and doubles last season. She will likely play more singles this season. A newcomer to the varsity level, junior Natalia Rodriguez, will play singles. Junior Kiera Latham was a singles player on JV last year along with Rodriguez. She will play some singles this season as well as some doubles.
The first doubles team from last year’s JV team, seniors Ashley Etienne and Nicole Smith, also move up together to the varsity squad.
A returnee at doubles is junior Jaclyn La Sita, who may also play some singles as well. Seniors Brielle Mauder, Courtney Hauf and Emma Stoll all played doubles and are returners.
The youngest player on the team is freshman Anna Simos. Seniors Felicia Da Vollo, Teresa Terraccina, Soo Jin Lee and Kim Giacalone round out the Shoreham lineup.
The Wildcats are scheduled to open the League VIII season Friday at home against Rocky Point. Their first non-league match is Thursday against William Floyd.
“We should be competitive with the teams in our league,” Lutjen said.
Joe Werkmeister contributed to this article.