Debbie Lutjen, who coached the Shoreham-Wading River High School boys tennis team from 1986 to 1995, has returned to the Wildcats, taking over the team from Chris Bevelander.
Lutjen, who also coaches Shoreham’s girls tennis team, was asked if she noticed any changes in the boys game since she last coached the Shoreham boys.
“I think it’s changed in the same way that girls tennis has,” she said. “The top players are putting more time in out of season and playing year-round, so that’s raising the overall level of the players we have competing.”
Lutjen might as well have been describing Shoreham’s top singles player, Christopher Kuhnle. The junior, who advanced to the Suffolk County Individual Tournament last year, doesn’t wait for points to come his way. He goes out and gets them. And he works at his game, playing year-round, taking private lessons and competing in tournaments. That dedication has turned him into a formidable player.
“He has all the shots,” said Lutjen.
The Wildcats are starting the season with a singles lineup of Kuhnle, junior Doug DeMaio, senior Philip Andolena and senior Christian Raimondo.
A junior, Matt Epp, is being paired with freshman Nicholas Lange at first doubles. The other doubles teams had not been set. Lutjen is looking at junior Brandon Dorcely, senior Peter Stirpe, senior Justin Joseph, senior Matt Plushau, junior Cameron Weber and senior Sean Scarborough.
“I’m happy with what I see,” Lutjen said. She added: “I’m optimistic. I think we have a lot of good athletes on the team.”
The Wildcats hope this will be the last season they will have to play their home matches at an intermediate school in the Longwood School District. A bond passed to have the courts in Shoreham repaired. Lutjen said Shoreham must wait for the New York State Department of Education to approve the work. “I’m hoping that it’s turned around quick enough that it’s done this summer, but that’s not certain,” she said.
It takes 10 players to fill a complete lineup. As of Monday evening, Riverhead (0-12 last year) had nine.
That’s a concern for coach Bob Lum, who expected more players.
Lum hopes 30-degree temperatures and 20-mile-per-hour winds are what kept players away from practices. “I don’t know if the weather scared them off or what,” he said.
“It’s tough to stay put there for three hours,” he continued. “That’s why I have hope for the future. Maybe when it gets warmer I can get a few more people.”
Last year the Blue Waves started the season with 14 players, but ended up with 10.
It doesn’t help that Riverhead doesn’t have junior varsity or junior high school teams to feed the varsity squad with players. Lum said Riverhead hasn’t had a junior high team in about seven years.
“You can survive without a JV, but it’s very difficult without a seventh- or eighth-grade team,” he said. “That’s where it all has to be focused.”
Lum said he hopes to start an intramural program and ask physical education teachers to put more emphasis on tennis.
Three players are back from last year’s lineup. Jens Summerlin, a junior, played first singles and was the team’s most valuable player. Another junior, Dillon Fava-Wiggin, played third singles. The team captain, senior Steve Velasquez, played fourth singles.
Preseason practices have been difficult because of the weather.
Lum said: “It’s the same as last year — brutally cold. I’m hoping it changes down the road.”