12/24/13 7:00am
12/24/2013 7:00 AM
GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Aimee Manfredo returns for her sixth varsity season with a 63-19 career record with Shoreham-Wading River.

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River senior Aimee Manfredo.

Shoreham-Wading River senior Aimee Manfredo joined an elite group this fall when she won her third straight division championship in tennis.

It was just the beginning for the Bradley University-bound tennis star. She went on to win the county singles title and remained undefeated heading into the state championship. She became only the third girl in Shoreham history to win a county singles title.

At the state championship, Manfredo advanced into the semifinals before dropping her first match of the season. She closed out the season with a fourth-place finish in the tournament.

Editor’s note: We’re counting down the top 10 sports stories of 2013. Check back every day until Jan. 1 to follow along.

11/06/13 5:00pm
11/06/2013 5:00 PM
ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River senior Aimee Manfredo said her backhand was the MVP of her strokes Tuesday when she won her third Division IV singles title.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River senior Aimee Manfredo, shown here during the division championship, placed fourth in the state singles tournament, which concluded Monday.

On Tuesday night Aimee Manfredo attended the all-county girls tennis dinner, where she received her hardware for winning the Section XI singles title. It was a rare day off for the Shoreham-Wading River senior, who a day earlier competed in the consolation final of the state championship in Latham, N.Y.

“Today was my break, so tomorrow I go back to training,” Manfredo said.

No time for rest, even with the season behind her.

On Monday Manfredo wrapped up a brilliant career at Shoreham. A six-year varsity player, she completed her best individual finish, placing fourth in the state singles tournament. She lost to Olga Ostrovetsky of Wallkill, 6-4, 6-1, in the consolation final to finish her varsity career with an 89-21 record. She was undefeated heading into the state championship and finished the season 26-2.

“Everything went really well,” she said. “It was a good way to end the season.”

Manfredo won three matches to advance into the semifinals before she fell to second-seeded Sabrina Barisano of Ursuline School, 6-1, 6-1.

Manfredo won her first two matches easily Saturday in straight sets. In the quarterfinals Sunday she fought one of her toughest matches of the year, a three-setter against sixth-seeded Taylor Cosme of Herricks, the Nassau county champion. Manfredo won the first set, 6-3, but then lost the second 6-7 (5).

“In the second set I think I tried to end it too quickly, because I had a couple match points,” Manfredo said. “I got too excited, so in the third set I just really focused on playing my game and just playing every point like it’s the last.”

She bounced back to take the third set, 6-4, assuring herself a spot on the podium as an all-state finisher.

“After I got to the semis I felt like I could breathe,” she said.

The only problem for Manfredo was after the stirring, three-set win, she had just 45 minutes to recoup before having to play her semifinal match. That differed from a United States Tennis Association match, which would have provided 75 minutes between matches, she said.

In the consolation final Monday, Manfredo battled Ostrovetsky tight in the first set.

“In the first set we just didn’t break each other’s serves until it was 5-4 her,” Manfredo said. “Then she got the first break point and converted it. But she played really well.”

Manfredo’s season was the second best individual performance in school history behind Cath Galvin’s second-place finish, according to coach Debbie Lutjen.

“She joined an elite group of players,” Lutjen said.

Manfredo will now prepare for her college career starting next fall at Bradley University. She’ll be back on the courts this week, but not before she allowed herself one luxury.

“I did get mani-pedis, so that was good,” she said.

joew@timesreview.com

10/21/13 6:47pm
10/21/2013 6:47 PM

JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River senior Aimee Manfredo and coach Debbie Lutjen after Monday’s Section XI singles final.

SECTION XI CHAMPIONSHIP

As the final ball shot off Aimee Manfredo’s racket and whipped over the net, landing just inside the sideline, the Shoreham-Wading River senior clenched her left hand into a fist and exhaled an enthusiastic “YES!”

Over her six-year varsity career, every moment had been leading up to this.

At last, Manfredo stood alone as the top player in Suffolk County. After falling in the finals of the Section XI Championship last year as a junior, Manfredo delivered a near flawless performance over four matches this year. In the finals Monday afternoon at Smithtown East High School, Manfredo defeated the talented youngster Jackie Bukzin of Eastport-South Manor, 6-3, 6-2.

JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | Manfredo defeated Jackie Bukzin of Eastport-South Manor, 6-3, 6-2, Monday.

“I’m so excited and relieved,” Manfredo said afterward, clutching a bouquet of flowers that served as a fill-in trophy until she receives her hardware at the all-county dinner. “I got my scholarship [to Bradley University], I won the conferences and now counties. Everything just seems to be going for me.”

Manfredo became the third Shoreham girl to win a county title and first since Jennifer LoRusso in 1999.

“She joins an elite group of Shoreham-Wading River players who have won county titles,” said Shoreham coach Debbie Lutjen.

Catherine Galvin, who played at Clemson University from 1997-2000, was a two-time county champion for Shoreham.

Early in the season, Manfredo never gave much thought to the county tournament, she said. But over the last few weeks, as she knocked off one goal after another, the impending tournament suddenly came into focus.

“In the last week, I was like ‘Oh, I can actually do this,’ ” she said. “Now I’m going to do this.”

The finals were a rematch of the Division IV tournament finals. Manfredo and Bukzin were playing for the third time this season. Manfredo won a three-set thriller in the regular season and then won 6-1, 6-1 in the division finals.

Manfredo struggled a bit at the outset Monday, falling behind 0-2 in the first set. Once she got her first point, she kept rolling from there, attacking the net to keep Bukzin scrambling from side to side.

“She’s prepared hard for this,” Lutjen said. “She’s worked hard and obviously this was her goal. She really played awesome this tournament.”

After taking the first set, Manfredo quickly jumped ahead 2-0 against Bukzin, who’s only an eighth-grader. Bukzin was one of the only players this year in the county who could really challenge Manfredo.

“When I play Jackie, I have to remind myself, she’s a good player, she’s a tournament player, I need to make good shots,” Manfredo said.

With four wins in the county tournament, Manfredo improved her record to 23-0 this season heading into the state championship starting Nov. 3. For her career, Manfredo is 86-19.

In the semifinals Monday, Manfredo defeated Stephanie Chikvashvili of Half Hollow Hills East, 6-0, 6-0. On Saturday in the first two rounds, she beat Kayla Reidy of Connetquot, 6-1, 6-0, and Rini Halder of Whitman, 6-2, 6-1.

“She’s peaking at the right time,” Lutjen said.

joew@timesreview.com

10/15/13 8:21pm
10/15/2013 8:21 PM
ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River senior Aimee Manfredo said her backhand was the MVP of her strokes Tuesday when she won her third Division IV singles title.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River senior Aimee Manfredo said her backhand was the MVP of her strokes Tuesday when she won her third Division IV singles title.

DIVISION IV INDIVIDUAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

They don’t give out any trophies or medals for winning the Suffolk County Division IV girls tennis singles title, but Aimee Manfredo did bring home some intriguing spoils of victory Tuesday: the draw sheet of the tournament and a bag of candy corn — her favorite candy — given to her by her teammates.

“I have the draw sheets from every time I’ve won,” the three-time division champion said. “So it’s a nice little memory.”

Manfredo certainly also brought home some nice memories from William Floyd High School, as the Shoreham-Wading River senior culminated a brilliant tournament and performance with a 6-1, 6-1 triumph over Eastport/South Manor’s Jackie Bukzin. In her five tourney matches, Manfredo lost only four games.

Shoreham coach Debbie Lutjen called the win “very efficient. Awesome. Very few mistakes throughout the whole match. She kept herself in control the entire match.”

While she savored winning another league crown, Manfredo realized that she had yet another challenge looming over the horizon — the county championships at Smithtown East High School on Saturday and Monday.

“I think I’m going to rest tonight and then get back because I need to eat my candy corn, so I don’t think I should eat it and play tennis.” she said. “I’ll definitely be back [Wednesday].”

And then Manfredo will set her sights on winning her first county title. She reached the final last year.

“I expect a tougher draw because … [the division tournament] wasn’t really competition until the semis and finals,” she said. “That’s when I was really focused and tried to play my best tennis. I expect the counties will be every single match you will have to play your best match to get there. I really just have to hope that I am on my game that day.”

So does Lutjen, who has high hopes for Manfredo.

“Playing the way she played today, the sky’s the limit,” Lutjen said. “If she plays like this, she’s as good as anyone out there. She’s really playing well. She’s playing the best tennis of her career right now. That’s what you want. You want to be peaking at the right time going into the tournament. She’s playing with confidence and playing with a lot of maturity and control.”

Manfredo demonstrated that Tuesday, breaking Bukzin’s service four times.

“I played really well,” she said. “I warmed up really well. I felt I was hitting the ball great. Then I got into the match and I was so nervous because the last match I played against her went to three sets. It was: ‘Oh my gosh. It was going to be tough.’ I just came off hitting well on both sides. Nothing bothered me. In my last match, I had some issues. If I lost a game, I would be like, ‘Oh my God, you’re going to lose.’ But today, I don’t even remembering those two games. I just forgot about everything and played my game.”

The key to Manfredo’s game was a strong backhand.

“I loved my backhand today,” she said. “I think that was the MVP of my strokes. My backhand was really solid today and she tried to attack it. But I just got it back every single time. My forehand, I made more errors off of it, although I was winning points. I just felt more solid off my backhand and I could hit like 100 shots in a row. Hit it to my backhand, I’m hitting it back.”

In the doubles consolation match, Bishop McGann-Mercy coach Mike Clauberg found himself in the enviable and unique position of watching an encounter between a pair of friends and teammates from his own school. The M&Ms — Shannon Merker and Delaney Macchirole — defeated Z-squared — Jackie Zaweski and Micaela Zebroski, 6-3, 6-4.

“It’s great,” he said. “I’m just happy that we have four All-County selections, which I believe is the first time in school history. Both teams played really well today.”

10/07/13 7:00pm
10/07/2013 7:00 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River senior Aimee Manfredo won 6-0, 6-0 Monday at first singles against Southampton’s Noa Dubin.

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.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River freshman Joelle Benigno won at second singles Monday, 6-0, 6-2.

“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.

joew@timesreview.com

10/22/12 7:08pm
10/22/2012 7:08 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River junior Aimee Manfredo won her semifinal match Monday before falling in the finals of the Section XI tournament.

One by one the courts at Smithtown East High School emptied out. The doubles championship and consolation matches. The singles consolation match. Even a practice by the Smithtown tennis team started and finished.

All that remained were two players on the northwest court slugging it out for the Section XI singles title Monday afternoon.

Fittingly, the match between the top two players in Suffolk County went an exhausting three sets. Shoreham-Wading River junior Aimee Manfredo already had punched her ticket to the state tournament and had her eyes set on a county title when she rolled to a 6-1 victory in the first set against Half Hollow Hills West senior Zenat Rashidzada.

But after taking 3-2 lead in the second set, Rashidzada never looked back to come from behind and defeat a tiring Manfredo, 6-3, 6-2 and claim her first singles title. Rashidzada was a finalist in the county tournament last year.

Manfredo played brilliantly in the first set, using her speed to send Rashidzada scrambling across the court. She placed her serve where she needed and rarely made unforced errors.

By the second and third sets, Manfredo said she was having trouble getting to balls she had been in the first set.

“And I felt like I wasn’t making my shots like I was in the first set,” she said.

It was the first loss for Manfredo this season after 17 straight victories landed her a spot in the county finals. It was also the first match Manfredo played this season that extended to three sets.

“Every match is a learning experience,” said Shoreham coach Debbie Lutjen. “She was on fire that first set. So you have to learn, how do I maintain that focus and stay in that zone that she was in.”

Manfredo became the first Shoreham tennis player to earn a trip to the state tournament since Jennifer LoRusso in 2000 (LoRusso is also the last Shoreham county champion after winning as a junior in 1999). She did so by defeating Eastport-South Manor seventh-grader Jackie Bukzin in the semifinals, 6-4, 6-2. It was a rematch of the Division IV final from last week, which Manfredo also won in two sets.

Manfredo said the wind was much less of a factor in the semifinals compared to when she faced Bukzin in the division finals.

“The first set was tight like I thought it was going to be,” she said. “But then I kind of pulled ahead in the second set and I felt really good.”

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Aimee Manfredo and Eastport-South Manor seventh-grader Jackie Bukzin shake hands after the semifinal match Monday.

While the first two rounds were supposed to be completed Saturday, Manfredo was forced to play the second set of her quarterfinal match Monday as well. Her match against Sara Dionisio of Longwood couldn’t be completed Saturday due to darkness, so the two resumed the action Monday before the semifinals.

In the end, Manfredo played six sets of tennis, all of which were competitive.

Manfredo did her best to prepare for the long day by eating PowerBars and drinking plenty of water.

Manfredo and Rashidzada got a break after the second set. Manfredo said her focus was on staying positive and making her shots. ”Not try to make it too easy for her to win, even though I was really tired,” she said.

Manfredo started the third set with the serve, which had been to her advantage most of the match. The two went back-and-forth in what was one of the hardest earned points of the match. Rashidzada finally got the point to take the pivotal early lead in the decisive set.

Manfredo bounced back to win the next point and tie the match. But Rashidzada responded with two quick points to gain the momentum back.

“Aimee has the game,” Lutjen said. “She has the strokes. She’s a great player. She just has to learn to stay positive and stay focused.”

It’s been a steady progression each season for Manfredo, who began her varsity career as a seventh grader. As a freshman she lost in the quarterfinals of the division tournament. Last season she won her first division title before losing in the quarterfinals of the county tournament.

Now, she’s headed to states.

“Aimee met her goals,” Lutjen said. “She wanted to go to the state tournament and she did accomplish that.”

Manfredo’s loss in the quarterfinals last year was also against Rashidzada. In that match Rashidzada won 6-3, 7-5.

Manfredo will have a bit of a break before the state tournament. The team playoffs begin Tuesday and runs through Oct. 30, which is the Long Island championship.

The individual state tournament begins Nov. 4. at the Tri-City Tennis Center in Latham.

“I want to have fun and I also want to win a match,” Manfredo said. “I’ve never been to states before so I don’t really know what it’s like.”

She’ll find out soon enough.

joew@timesreview.com

10/22/12 12:00pm

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Division IV singles champion Aimee Manfredo of Shoreham-Wading River is in the Final Four of the county singles tournament.

Shoreham-Wading River junior Aimee Manfredo (17-0) will face top-seeded Zenat Rashidzada of Half Hollow Hills West this afternoon for the Section XI singles title at Smithtown East High School.

Manfredo, the No. 3 seed, won two matches already today. She had to finish her quarterfinal match against Longwood senior Sara Dionisio and won 6-2, 6-3. The match began Saturday but could not be completed due to darkness.

Manfredo then defeated Eastport-South Manor seventh-grader Jackie Bukzin in the semifinals, 6-4, 6-2, to advance to the finals.  The semifinals was a rematch of the Division IV finals, which Manfredo won 6-4, 6-3, after trailing 4-1 in the first set.

Rashidzada defeated Laura Torsiello of Bayport-Blue Point in the other semifinal.

Manfredo’s semifinal victory guarantees her a spot in the state tournament. The top three in the county move on to states. Bukzin and Torsiello will play a consolation match to determine the third-place finisher.

Rashidzada, the Division I champion, ended Manfredo’s season last year in the quarterfinals.

10/16/12 8:30pm
10/16/2012 8:30 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River junior Aimee Manfredo prepares for her Division IV singles match against Jackie Bubzik of Eastport-South Manor Tuesday afternoon.

The yellow visor Aimee Manfredo wore came off early in the first set of her Division IV singles championship match Tuesday afternoon. Struggling to place her serves on a windy afternoon and with her deficit growing against a hard-hitting seventh-grader, Manfredo ripped the visor off and tossed it onto the court at William Floyd High School.

The frustration was setting in for the defending champion as she muttered to herself under her breath.

“When I do things that might seem negative that helps me just let it all out and then I can focus better,” the Shoreham-Wading River junior said. “Throwing down my hat and screaming once or twice usually helps with that.”

No one knows better than Manfredo. After falling behind 4-1 in the first set against Jackie Bukzin, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, Manfredo rallied for the next five points to take the first set, 6-4. Soon after, she put the finishing touches on a 6-3 win in the second set to clinch the singles title for the second straight year.

She improved to 14-0 on the season and has yet to be pushed to a third set in any match. The championship win sends her into the Section XI tournament starting this weekend, where she could begin as a top-four seed.

The match was the first between Manfredo and Bukzin and it proved to be worth the wait. The two went back-and-forth all match with impressive volleys, zipping the ball across the net on the backhand and forehand.

“They have similar games,” said Shoreham-Wading River coach Debbie Lutjen. “They both hit the ball, they’re both aggressive. They both move well. So it really was a great match.”

A fierce competitor on the court, Manfredo routinely scolded herself during her early struggles.

But she was enjoying the experience all along.

“I was having a blast,” she said. “It doesn’t look like it, but it’s like chess. You’re having fun, but nobody looks it. You never see a person smile during chess unless they get checkmate.”

Lutjen said she knew Manfredo — a bubbly girl off the court — could bounce back from the early hole, even if she dropped the first set.

“I have been in awe of how well she’s played this year,” she said. “She needs to stay focused, stay positive. You don’t want to have any negative thoughts in your mind. But she got past that in the beginning.”

While both players are small in stature, they had little trouble generating impressive speed on their hits. Both players struggled with their serves at times as a stiff wind blew across the court from west to east.

It made for two different styles of play depending on which side of the court the player was on.

“On one side you’re trying to hit through the wind,” Manfredo said. “On the other side you kind of have to play with the wind. It’s completely different.”

Lutjen said there were more double faults than expected, requiring the players to lower the toss on their serve.

“You have to make adjustments,” she said.

A varsity member since seventh grade and a year-round tennis player, Manfredo travels to a club in Bethpage five times a week in addition to practices with the school team. She estimated she practices tennis about four hours a day.

The experience proved valuable in a tough match against a younger opponent.

In the normal league season playing for the Wildcats, Manfredo didn’t face an opponent quite on the level of Bukzin. But she often faces players of similar caliber in her USTA Tournaments.

“I think it worked to my advantage,” she said of playing a hard-hitting opponent. “I got more in my rhythm rather than a lobbing fest.”

Bukzin undoubtedly has a bright future and could be a tough out in the county tournament. The top four singles player from each division tournament advance to the county tournament.

Manfredo had a first-round bye in the division tournament before recording wins over Molly Kowalski (6-0, 6-1) and Carly Grossman (6-1, 6-0). In the semifinals Monday she won 6-3, 6-3 against McGann-Mercy senior Cassidy Lessard, who finished fourth in the tournament.

Lessard lost in the consolation final, 6-2, 6-1, against Noa Dubin of Southampton.

Manfredo said her upcoming goal for the county tournament is a top-three finish to earn a spot at the state championship.

“Last year I think I was one shy of making it to states,” she said.

Lutjen added: “I know her goal is she’d love to go to the state tournament and that’s what she’s been working hard for. If she plays well, I believe she can do it.”

joew@timesreview.com