WILDCATS 4, MARINERS 3
Steady gusts of wind blew across the courts at Shoreham-Wading River Monday afternoon as a nearing storm drew closer. On any other day, the wind might have discouraged Aimee Manfredo, rattling her game ever so slightly.
But as Shoreham’s first singles player squared off against Southampton’s Noa Dubin — one of the top players in the division — she took the unfortunate weather all in stride.
“Usually the wind makes me really annoyed,” Manfredo said. “It’s just an annoying thing.”
But Manfredo had reason to be calm. After all, she had just verbally committed to play tennis next year at Bradley University in Illinois. At Bradley she’ll compete for a Division I program that plays in the competitive Missouri Valley Conference against schools like Southern Illinois, Wichita State and Northern Iowa. She can officially sign a National Letter of Intent on Nov. 13.
Even as the gusts whipped all around her, Manfredo cruised past Dubin, 6-0, 6-0 to lead the Wildcats to a 4-3 victory. Shoreham improved to 6-4 in League VIII and 7-7 overall.
For Manfredo, she kept her perfect record intact at 12-0 playing first singles.
“It was a big weight lifted off my shoulders,” Manfredo said of finalizing her college plans.
As Manfredo weighed her college options, she settled on choosing between Bradley, Siena and Bryant. She had briefly thought about the Air Force Academy, but decided she wanted more of the college experience over the regimented military structure.
Bradley offered her a full scholarship and provided the most competitive tennis opportunity.
“I wanted to go to college to play tennis and know I’m going to get better,” she said. “I wasn’t going to be [No.1] one at Bradley so I wanted to push myself.”
A year-round tennis player, Manfredo practices at her club five days a week, even during the school season. Now that she has her college choice behind her, she can shift her focus to the upcoming division and county tournaments.
Manfredo won the Division IV tournament last year and finished second in the county to earn her first trip to states.
She said she doesn’t think much about defending her division title or winning a county title. She focuses on trying to get better.
“I want to be the best I can before I go to college,” she said. “That’s my goal.”
While few players in the league can give Manfredo a real run for her money, she did get taken to the limit earlier in the season in a non-league match against Eastport-South Manor. In a rematch of last year’s division final, Manfredo needed three grueling sets to defeat Eastport’s rising star, Jackie Bukzin. Manfredo needed a tie-breaker in the third set to prevail.
“That was an awesome match,” said Shoreham coach Debbie Lutjen, who added that it was in the top four matches she’s ever seen as a high school coach.
Manfredo offered a less glowing review.
“I pretty much beat myself out on the court, which made it twice as hard to play her,” she said. “I’m already going bonkers and then it’s tougher to play a match. But I was able to pull it out in the end.”
Manfredo and Bukzin, an eighth-grader, could very well meet again in the division finals and possibly the county tournament.
Manfredo will likely enter the Division IV Tournament Saturday as the No. 1 seed and Bukzin will likely be the No. 2. The tournament at William Floyd High School features rounds one and two on Saturday. The quarterfinals and semifinals are Monday and the championship and consolation finals are Tuesday.
The Wildcats also won second and third singles Monday against Southampton. The young duo of sisters Joelle and Daniella Benigno both picked up straight set wins. Joelle, a freshman, won 6-0, 6-2 at second singles. Daniella, an eighth-grader, won 6-0, 6-0 at third singles.
Manfredo said both girls have started playing at the same club where she practices.
“They’re coming along really good,” she said. “I love them both. They’re still pretty young, so I’m hoping they can take over when I’m gone.”
Shoreham also won at second doubles with the duo of Heather Sager and Amanda DeTiberis picking up a 6-1, 6-1 victory.
The Wildcats close out the regular season with matches against Southold/Greenport and Wednesday and Riverhead Thursday.