09/04/13 10:00am
09/04/2013 10:00 AM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Shannon Merker, Bishop McGann-Mercy’s senior captain, was called the best doubles player Mike Clauberg has ever coached.


If this is the golden era of Bishop McGann-Mercy girls tennis, the shine on that gilt may be getting duller.

The Monarchs have enjoyed great success, reaching the playoffs the past five years and compiling a 55-7 league record during that time. Prior to last season, they had an unbeaten string at home that lasted for nearly five years.

All of that, of course, was not by happenstance.

“We put a lot of time into the program,” said coach Mike Clauberg, referring to elementary school, junior high school and summer camp programs.

Currently, two former McGann-Mercy players, Liz Rossi (Mount St. Mary’s) and Cassidy Lessard (Wagner), are playing in college. The Monarchs undoubtedly wish they still had them. Clauberg, who is in his 13th year as the team’s coach, said he sees a lot of holes in his lineup.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think we’re going to pull any miracles this year,” he said. “This is one of my most inexperienced teams in a lot of years.”

McGann-Mercy went 12-6 last year, reaching the Suffolk County Team Tournament quarterfinals for the third year in a row. Returning to that stage will not be easy, although Clauberg said qualifying for the playoffs is a realistic goal. A League VII team, McGann-Mercy is ranked fifth among League VII and League VIII teams by the coaches. The Monarchs face a tough schedule, too. They will play four of the top eight teams in Suffolk in league matches: William Floyd, East Hampton/Bridgehampton/Pierson, Westhampton Beach and The Ross School.

Two seniors head McGann-Mercy’s returning cast, Shannon Merker and Jackie Zaweski. Merker, the team captain, played for the top two doubles teams as well as second singles last year. She was an all-division selection along with Jamie Lessard, a sophomore.

Speaking of Merker, Clauberg said, “She’s the best doubles player I ever coached.”

Delaney Macchirole, who played first doubles with fellow junior Micaela Zebroski last year, is also back. Magda Duda was part of the singles lineup last season at the No. 2 or No. 3 spot. Brittany Folkes played third doubles and fourth singles. Katie Brownfield was a third doubles player.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Clauberg said. “We’re going to be an underdog this year for the first time in a long time.”


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 | Aimee Manfredo returns for her sixth varsity season with a 63-19 career record with Shoreham-Wading River.

Shoreham-Wading River has produced some pretty good players over the years, such as Cath Galvin, who was a two-time county champion, and Jennifer LoRusso, who has a county title on her résumé as well. Aimee Manfredo ranks right up there with them, according to coach Debbie Lutjen, who has been coaching in the program since 1984.

Private lessons and the experience of playing in United States Tennis Association tournaments has made a difference. Manfredo brings a 63-19 career record into her senior season and sixth at the varsity level. The two-time Division IV singles champion was a county runner-up who went 17-1 last year.

Lutjen said Manfredo is “very strong, very motivated. I think she’s very excited about her senior season. She loves the game.”

Although the lineup was being finalized, Lutjen said two sisters, freshman Joelle Benigno and eighth-grader Daniella Benigno, will play second and third singles. Michelle Hoffmann, a sophomore, and junior Anna Simos were competing for the fourth singles position. Heather Sager, a sophomore who was the junior varsity team’s top singles player last year, is projected to be a doubles player.

Another sophomore, Katya Perricone, is ranked sixth among singles candidates and is expected to fill a doubles spot. She is new to the team along with junior McKenna Farrell, freshman Amanda Betiberis and sophomore Katie Stern.

“We have a strong group of girls,” said Lutjen.

Riverhead (7-9) finds itself in an interesting situation in terms of personnel.

“I lost a lot but …,” said coach Jerry Duvall, who at the same time conceded that his team returns a good deal of experienced players, many of them juniors.

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead junior Lydia Keiffert is the favorite to play first singles.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead junior Lydia Keiffert is the favorite to play first singles.

Since last year, Riverhead lost five players, all of whom were slotted in key lineup positions, and yet it’s not as if the Blue Waves can cry poverty. They still have seven players back who were in the lineup in 2012. That includes junior Lydia Keiffert, senior Michelle Behr and junior Katherine Chmielewski, who look destined for places in the singles lineup along with what Duvall referred to as “a player to be named later.”

That’s not a bad starting point. “Lydia, Michelle and Katherine are not bad singles players,” said Duvall.

Keiffert played first doubles and second singles last year behind the graduated Charlotte Palmer and seems poised to make the jump to first singles.

“She’s our most experienced singles player,” Duvall said. “She keeps the ball in play. She’s fast and runs real quick. She can make the other person run, too.”

Behr and Chmielewski both saw time at third and fourth singles, as did Samantha Carter, a junior.

Two juniors, Cassidy Brown and Abigail Wehunt, played a lot at first doubles and formed what Duvall called his most consistent doubles team. Another junior, Jessica Purick, has varsity experience as a doubles player.

Danielle Alaimo, a junior, and Amy Methven, a sophomore, are also returning players.

Courtney Troyan, a sophomore who was one of the top singles players on the junior varsity team last year, is a new addition. Perla Leon is a senior who can play doubles. Paired at doubles are juniors Kate Prjlaina and Danielle Alaimo, freshmen Taylor Marelli and Kathleen Gregory, and juniors Brianne Corwin and Stefanie Costello.

“These kids have great potential,” Duvall said. “They’re all gung-ho kids. They’re all anxious to play.”

Duvall said he appreciates the “team-first” attitude of his players. He said, “It may be the most unselfish team of players I’ve had the privilege to coach.”

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10/23/12 7:44pm
10/23/2012 7:44 PM

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | McGann-Mercy senior Cassidy Lessard competes at the division championship last week. The Monarchs won Tuesday against Ward Melville in the team playoffs to advance to the quarterfinals.


As the match unfolded Tuesday between eighth-seeded McGann-Mercy and No. 9 Ward Melville, it became clear only one path to victory existed for the Monarchs: Sweep the three doubles matches and find a way to win one singles match.

Sounds simple enough.

Only the Monarchs were without their No. 2 singles player, senior Marianne Naleski, who was out sick. The remaining singles players had to bump up one spot.

And then there was still the problem at first doubles, where the Monarchs were going up against an all-county duo from Ward Melville.

“I knew it was going to be a close match,” said Mercy coach Mike Clauberg. “I knew it was going to be tough.”

When Mercy’s first doubles duo of sophomores Delaney Macchirole and Micaela Zebroski pulled out a victory, it came down to fourth singles. And junior Jackie Zaweski delivered a clutch victory to seal a 4-3 victory for Mercy, sending the Monarchs into the quarterfinals Wednesday against No. 1 Half Hollow Hills East.

It’s the third straight year Mercy has advanced into the quarterfinals.

“These girls really came up big today,” Clauberg said.

Zaweski has rotated between doubles and singles this season, so moving into the fourth singles spot wasn’t something new. She won the first set against Caitlin Falvey 6-1, but things weren’t so smooth in the second set. She fell behind 5-4 and was on the brink of going to a decisive third set. She fought back to tie the match at 6 and send it to a tiebreaker.

In the tiebreaker she won 7-2, giving her a 7-6 victory to clinch the victory for Mercy.

“She played a great tiebreaker,” Clauberg said. “This girl was good, but Jackie played everything down. When the girl came to the net she lobbed it over her head. She really had a great game.”

At first doubles Macchirole and Zebroski won 6-1, 6-4 for the all-important victory.

The second and third doubles teams took care of business with two-set wins.

Junior Shannon Merker and freshman Jamie Lessard won 6-0, 6-3 at second doubles. Freshmen Kathleen Brownfiel and Margaret Naleski won 6-0, 6-0 at third doubles.

Mercy’s first singles player, senior Cassidy Lessard, had to go up against Sabrina Ferretti, who was third in the Division III singles tournament.

“It was a real close match,” Clauberg said. “Cassidy was winning throughout the first set. She was up 5-4 and couldn’t put it down.”

Ferretti came back to won the first set 7-5. In the second set she lost 6-4.

The loss at first singles added the pressure on the doubles teams, which had no room for error.

Having the match on their home courts proved to be beneficial for the Monarchs.

“Being at home is definitely an advantage,” Clauberg said.

The Monarchs will have their hands full Wednesday against the top team in the county in Hills East. The Thunderbirds have one of the top players in the county in Vanessa Scott and a deep lineup after her with skilled players at every position.

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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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