The more the merrier.
That could be the motto for the Shoreham-Wading River boys tennis team. Coach Rich Muller said he will probably carry 20 players on his team. That is a large squad for a sport that provides lineup positions for 10 players, but Muller said that in keeping so many players, he is looking toward the future — their future.
Muller said Shoreham-Wading River is the sort of school district in which students like to get involved in extracurricular activities, and he’s fine with doing what he can to help them. “They come out, they want to play,” he said. “It’s such a lifetime sport. It’s something that they can do forever.”
Without question, first and foremost among the pack for the Wildcats (1-11 last year) is freshman first singles player Chris Kuhnle. Kuhnle, who joined the team as a seventh grader, posted a 9-3 record last year and fell one agonizing win short of a place in the New York State tournament.
“He’s definitely worth watching,” Muller said. “He’s flashy, tough, keeps the ball in the court, tries to draw your mistakes out. He’s been progressing.”
In addition to Kuhnle’s talents as a player, Muller said he is also an ideal teammate.
Two brothers, freshman Doug DeMaio and senior Charles DeMaio, will most likely make up the first doubles team. The second doubles team may consist of two juniors, Tom Stridiron and Nick West, former singles players who were paired up together halfway through last season.
Three juniors promoted from the junior varsity team will push for singles spots: Craig Schmitt, Ryan Schmitt and Christian Suarez.
Muller has recruited two golfers from the Shoreham-Wading River golf team that he coaches. He said juniors Matt Hauser and Mike Raimondo may play second or third doubles.
Playing in League VII along with powerhouses such as Westhampton Beach, Southampton and William Floyd, Shoreham-Wading River will have its work cut out.
“If we break .500, I think we’ll be O.K,” Muller said. “We just try to stay in the middle of it.”
In his six years as Riverhead’s coach, Bob Lum has never had a team with such little experience. “This team is the biggest challenge I’ve had,” he said.
Yes, challenge would be the right word. The Blue Waves (0-12) have only three returning players. That’s it. And those three, by the way, are the only ones with prior experience in the sport.
Lum could see the writing on the wall with the loss of eight players from last year’s team. “It wasn’t a surprise because I knew the situation last year,” he said. “I knew we were going to be behind the eight ball.”
Seth Conrad, a senior who went 7-4 in first singles last year and reached the Suffolk County Conference IV Tournament, is entering his fifth varsity season and third as the team’s first singles player.
“He had a good season,” Lum said. “The competition for number one was pretty stiff last year and I expect this year to be even better. He’s a smart player. He knows how to adjust his game to different players.”
The only other veterans are sophomore Steven Velasquez and freshman Dillon Fava-Wiggins. They both played third doubles last year.
And then there are a bunch of tennis newcomers. Among them are seniors Kyle Helgans, Shane Ford, Michael Hayhia and Alexander Albecht, junior Nicholas Tokarz, sophomore Edgar Garcia and freshmen Kurt Vivan and Dennis Kenter.
“What I do like about the new kids coming in is they are coming in with a good attitude, and quite a few of them are good athletes,” Lum said. “The whole part I like best is teaching them, teaching them to enjoy the process.”
“I would say it’s going to be a challenge,” he added, “but you know what, you throw your hat in the ring and you give it a shot and you see what happens.”