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.

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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.

10/19/12 11:03am
10/19/2012 11:03 AM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | McGann-Mercy singles player Cassidy Lessard earned all-county honors after finishing fourth at the Division IV tournament.

The McGann-Mercy girls tennis team will have to wait until Tuesday for its second-round playoff match as rain washed away today’s schedule.

The eighth-seeded Monarchs will host No. 9 Ward Melville at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Ward Melville advanced to the Round of 16 by defeating No. 24 Brentwood 7-0 Thursday. The top eight seeds in the tournament had a bye.

The winner of Tuesday’s match advances to play either No. 1 Half Hollow Hills East or No. 16 Sayville on Wednesday. The Monarchs have made it into the quarterfinals the last two years. Last season ended with a loss to the No. 2 seed, Half Hollow Hills West.

Before the team tournament resumes, the Section XI individual tournament will take place this weekend. Two locals will be competing, including Mercy senior Cassidy Lessard in singles. Shoreham-Wading River junior Aimee Manfredo, the Division IV singles champion, is also competing.

The individual tournament begins Saturday at Smithtown East High School with the first two rounds. The semifinals and finals will be played Monday.

10/17/12 8:00pm
10/17/2012 8:00 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | McGann-Mercy singles player Cassidy Lessard earned all-county honors after finishing fourth at the Division IV tournament.

For as well as the McGann-Mercy girls tennis team has performed in recent years, sending singles players to the county tournament has been a relatively rare accomplishment over the history of the program.

Senior Cassidy Lessard joined the exclusive group Monday when she advanced into the semifinals of the singles tournament, where she lost a spirited match against the top seed and eventual champion, Aimee Manfredo of Shoreham-Wading River. The loss dropped Lessard into the consolation final Tuesday at William Floyd High School, where she faced Noa Dubin of Southampton to determine third and fourth place. The top four singles player advance to the county tournament, which begins this weekend.

On a windy afternoon where neither player was at her best, Dubin won 6-2, 6-1 as Lessard finished the tournament in fourth place for an all-county finish.

“Even though today she goes down on a loss, it’s still a privilege to be in the final 16 in the county,” said Mercy coach Mike Clauberg. “If she wins one match, she’ll be in the final eight.”

Clauberg said as far as he can tell, Lessard is only the third singles player from Mercy to achieve all-county status.

“She’s part of an elite group from Mercy High School,” he said.

Lessard advances to the county tournament for the first time in her career. She entered the division tournament as the No. 5 seed. She defeated Cassie Rivera of Eastport-South Manor, 6-3, 6-1, in the first round and Emily Vigliotta of Floyd, 6-3, 6-1, in the second round.

In the quarterfinals Monday she beat Sophie Volz of Ross, 7-5, 6-3. Volz had knocked off the No. 4 seed in the tournament in the second round.

Lessard’s quarterfinal win assured her a spot in the top four.

Against Dubin Tuesday Lessard had more unforced errors than usual, Clauberg said.

“Noa really took Cassidy out of her game,” he said.

Lessard had a strong showing against Manfredo a day earlier, losing 6-3, 6-3 against the two-time champion.

“She stuck to the game plan and did exactly what she was supposed to do against Aimee,” Clauberg said. “I really thought she played a great match against Aimee.”

The Monarchs’ season continues Friday when they begin the team playoffs. Mercy was seeded No. 8 in the Section XI tournament and will host either No. 9 Ward Melville or No. 24 Brentwood.

The top eight seeds in the tournament received a first-round bye. If Mercy can win its first playoff match, the Monarchs would likely be headed to face the top seed, Half Hollow Hills East.

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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.”

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10/01/12 10:37pm
10/01/2012 10:37 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | McGann-Mercy senior Cassidy Lessard competes in a match earlier this season.

Nothing comes easy in League VII.

The McGann-Mercy girls tennis team fully expected the competition to be fierce every match this season and so far the Monarchs haven’t been disappointed.

The Monarchs dropped a tough match Monday afternoon on the road at East Hampton to fall to 3-4 in League VII. It was Mercy’s fourth league match that was decided by one point. East Hampton earned the 4-3 win, flipping the script on Mercy after the Monarchs won by the same margin in early September.

Mercy coach Mike Clauberg said he expected this match to be a tougher go-around compared to the earlier meeting.

“This is the first time they played at full strength,” he said.

The Bonackers were shorthanded through the first half of the league season — one girl was in Germany for two weeks — which made their 1-5 league record coming into Monday a little deceiving.

“I thought it was going to be 4-3 either way,” Clauberg said. “It’s tough playing at East Hampton.”

Mercy first singles player Cassidy Lessard faced off against Abby Okin in a rematch from earlier in the season. Lessard, a senior captain, defeated Okin in three sets when they met at Mercy.

This time, in another three-setter, it was Okin emerging victorious. She won 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 to help East Hampton clinch the match.

“It was a close battle,” Clauberg said. “That match can go either way.”

Mercy picked up wins at second doubles, third and fourth singles.

The league schedule has pitted Mercy against two of the top 10 teams on Long Island in Ross and William Floyd. Mercy lost to both teams and will face them both again.

The Monarchs are 5-0 this season against teams outside of League VII, lifting their overall record to 8-4.

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09/24/12 9:50pm
09/24/2012 9:50 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead junior Lydia Keiffert teamed up with senior Charlotte Palmer in first doubles Monday against Connetquot.


Records can be deceiving, especially in a sport like tennis where the top teams in each division are bunched together in one league.

Connetquot arrived in Riverhead Monday afternoon still searching for its first win of the season. The Thunderbirds, at 0-6, were the last winless team in League III, the upper league of Division II, which features some strong competition.

The Thunderbirds finally broke into the win column with a 6-1 non-league victory over the Blue Waves at Riverhead High School.

“They were a balanced team,” said Riverhead coach Jerry Duvall. “They had good volley shots and good serves. Not overpowering, but very steady.”

The lone win for the Blue Waves came at fourth singles with a 6-3, 6-3 win by sophomore Samantha Carter over Jess Breitweg.

Riverhead mixed up its lineup by pairing its top two singles players into a first doubles team. The duo of Charlotte Palmer and Lydia Keiffert lost 6-4, 6-0 in a match that was closer than the second set score would indicate.

It was the third time this season Palmer, a senior, and Keiffert, a junior, played together in doubles.

Only one match in singles went to a third set and that came at third singles. After falling 6-1 in the first set, Michelle Behr bounced back to win 6-1 in the next game. But Mackenzie Martschi of Connequot rallied to win the decisive third set, 6-4.

With Palmer and Keiffer in doubles, senior Alex Quintana got the opportunity to move up to first singles. She lost 6-2, 6-0 against Colleen Moltzen.

The Blue Waves fell to 3-5 overall. They’re 3-4 in League VIII, the lower league of Division IV. Already at the midway point of the league season, the Blue Waves resume the second half of their schedule Thursday at Mattituck.

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09/10/12 8:00pm
09/10/2012 8:00 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Mercy senior Marianne Naleski starts at second singles for the Monarchs.

Advanced scout work may seem like something reserved for coaches in football, basketball or lacrosse at the high school level.

But tennis?

At McGann-Mercy, where over the last seven years the Monarchs have developed into one of the top teams in Suffolk County, scouting may prove to be a huge key. Mercy coach Mike Clauberg said depending on the opponent, he can shift around his lineup between singles and doubles to find the best combination.

Competing in League VII, one of the toughest in the county, the Monarchs will need every advantage they can get to consistently win matches.

“Whatever we want them to do, they’re willing to do it,” Clauberg said. “Sometimes kids can’t be that versatile, but we have a couple kids that really are that versatile.”

The Monarchs’ record over the past four seasons speaks for itself: 50-2 in league. The Monarchs come into this season after a run to the quarterfinals of the county playoff tournament last year, where they fell 4-3 as the No. 7 seed to Half Hollow Hills West.

Competing in the more competitive league of Division IV last season, the Monarchs surprised some teams by finishing in second place. This year the Monarchs were again predicted to finish in the middle of the pack of League VII. But the Monarchs proved last year that preseason predictions don’t always mean much.

Mercy already has gotten off to a fast start this season by knocking off Westhampton, 4-3, Friday.

“Making the county tournament is definitely what our goal is,” Clauberg said.

While the Monarchs lost a few key players from last year, they do return some experienced players along with some newcomers from the JV.

Senior captain Cassidy Lessard, a third-year varsity player, will start off at first singles. Lessard was an all-division player last year and can play doubles as well.

Senior co-captain Marianne Naleski will play second singles and junior co-captain Shannon Merker will switch between third singles and first doubles. Merker was all-county last year in doubles, but her partner graduated. Junior Jackie Zaweski returns to play singles and doubles.

Sophomore Delaney Macchirole, the only other returnee from last season, will play doubles. She’s started off the season playing with sophomore Micaela Zebroski.

Junior Brittany Folkes, sophomore Magdalena Duda and freshmen Jamie Lessard and Kathleen Brownfiel will all play doubles as well. Lessard played on the JV last year as an eighth-grader and Brownfiel was the first singles player for the junior high team.

Freshman Margaret Naleski and sophomore Catherine Tumminello will also play doubles.

If there’s one thing the Riverhead girls tennis team won’t have to worry about this year, it’s having enough girls to fill the lineup each match. The Blue Waves, after an 8-6 season last year in League VIII, come into the season with a deep roster of 18 players.

Riverhead coach Jerry Duvall said with as many seniors as the team has, he didn’t want to make any cuts.

“The kids have a great attitude,” he said. “We had a super tryout week. A lot of close matches.”

The Blue Waves have plenty of depth, but many players are new to the varsity.

“Most of them are pretty strong,” Duvall said. “Hopefully once they get over the varsity jitters, they’ll play even better.”

Riverhead split its first two matches of the season, losing to defending league champion Mattituck, 5-2, and then beating Shelter Island, 6-1.

Duvall said he expects the team this year to have a good balance between singles and doubles. Last year, singles turned into a real strong point for the Blue Waves.

Starting off at first singles is junior Charlotte Palmer, a returnee who played some singles and doubles last season. Junior Lydia Keiffert moves up a spot to play second singles and junior Alex Quintana also bumps up a spot to play third singles. Junior Michelle Behr will start off at fourth singles.

“Kids are playing new positions pretty much,” Duvall said.

The Blue Waves’ two wins against Mattituck came at the second and third doubles spots, an encouraging sign to start the season in terms of the team’s depth.

Early on the Blue Waves are still trying to find the best combinations for doubles with all the players they have.

Seniors on the team include Danielle Alaimo, Juana Dobrzynski, Elia Gordon and Evelyn Greenwood.

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River junior Aimee Manfredo won the Division IV title last year and is looking for even bigger things this season.

The Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats won’t have the luxury Riverhead has when it comes to depth. The Wildcats open the season with 10 girls on the varsity, the minimum needed to play a match.

What the Wildcats may lack in depth they make up for in star power up front with junior Aimee Manfredo.

The defending Division IV champion, Manfredo has played on varsity since seventh grade, making this her fifth year on varsity.

Shoreham coach Debbie Lutjen said Manfredo has returned an even stronger player than last season.

“She’s an all-court player,” Lutjen said. “I think overall her strokes are even stronger this year. She’s very motivated to succeed.”

Manfredo enters the season as the favorite to win the division crown again. This year, however, her goal is to advance farther in the county tournament.

She lost in the quarterfinals last season.

“This year hopefully she can possibly make it to the state tournament,” Lutjen said.

The Wildcats were strong as a team last season as well, posting a 10-4 record in League VIII.

At second singles the Wildcats return senior Emma Stoll. Senior Natalia Rodriguez returns for third singles and senior Kiera Latham will play fourth singles.

The first doubles team to start has been senior Jaclyn La Sita and sophomore Anna Simos. Junior Rebecca Rhodes and Breslyn Naso play second doubles and freshmen Cassidy Latham and Michelle Hoffmann play third.

Nine players from last year’s team graduated.

The Wildcats opened the season with a 6-1 loss against William Floyd, typically one of the stronger teams in the county.

Lutjen said she’s hoping to recruit a few more players to round out the team in case any players get injured along the way.

The Wildcats will face a much tougher schedule this year as they moved up to League VII, the upper league of Division IV.

“My philosophy is if you play better competition, it’s going to make you better,” Lutjen said.

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