MARINERS 4, BLUE WAVES 3
So, what is a high school girls tennis coach to do when he’s searching for just the right first doubles team?
Answer: Pair together two players with singles backgrounds. What else?
Knowing full well the value of a first doubles team and what it can do for a team’s lineup, Riverhead coach Jerry Duvall spent the first couple of weeks of the new season mixing and matching, trying to find the right partner for his team captain, Lydia Keiffert.
In the first three matches of the season, Keiffert played with three different partners at first doubles. The senior teamed up with Jessica Purick, then with Cassidy Brown and then on Friday with Courtney Troyan. By the way, Riverhead won all three of those first doubles matches.
As it turns out, Troyan may be the one that works best. The sophomore, a varsity rookie, played first singles for the junior varsity team last year and third and fourth singles in the first two matches of this season. She worked well with Keiffert on Friday when the two combined for a 7-5, 6-1 win over Southampton freshmen Julia Kepczynska and Marcelina Kropiwnicka.
Afterward, referring to his search for the best first doubles combination, Duvall said, “I think I may have found it.”
Southampton’s only doubles win of the day proved decisive, though, giving the Mariners a 4-3 victory at Riverhead High School. Southampton improved its record to 2-2, 2-1 in Suffolk County League VII. Riverhead is 1-2, 1-2.
With the team score even at 3-3, Southampton’s second doubles team of Maria Neknez and Megan Goleski prevailed, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2, over Purick and Abigail Wehunt. Purick and Wehunt were on the precipice of going down earlier, but staged an impressive comeback from a 5-1 deficit in the second set.
The pairing of Keiffert and Troyan, who never played together before, may have been the best thing to come out of the match for Riverhead. The two players share similar attributes. Both are athletic, move well on the court and have an affinity for doubles.
“They both have net skills,” Duvall said. “They can move and cover the court. That makes it a tough number one team.”
Keiffert, Riverhead’s only four-year varsity player, has played singles and doubles fairly equally over the course of her time with the Blue Waves. “Last year I was second singles, so it was almost expected that I would play first singles this year,” she said. “For my last year I wanted to enjoy the sport, and I knew I could get most enjoyment out of doubles.”
Troyan said that she, like Keiffert, feels more comfortable playing doubles.
Both players spoke about the benefit of having a teammate on the court next to them during a match.
“When you’re getting your water, switching sides, there’s always someone there to talk to you,” Keiffert said. “You’re down, and there’s always someone there to bring you up, and you don’t realize how much that truly improves your game when you have someone constantly there, cheering you on.”
With only one practice as doubles partners the day before, the two Riverheaders meshed together quite well, and quickly.
“We’ve never played doubles together, and I think we did really well, and we’re going to be playing a lot together in the future,” said Troyan.
A 7-6 (7-2), 5-7, 6-3 win by Brown over Keynu Banks at third singles tied the teams at 3-3. It was only Riverhead’s second singles win this season.
Riverhead’s other point came from the third doubles pairing of Danielle Alaimo and Kate Prijakina. They bounced back after dropping the first set, 6-3, to Pauline Dela Cruz and Johanna Moore, by taking the last two sets, 6-3, 6-2.
Southampton was strong in singles, though. The Mariners have junior Noa Dubin, one of the top players in the league. She cruised in her first singles match against junior Sam Carter, 6-0, 6-0.
The string on Carter’s racket popped while she returned the first serve of the match, and she had to use a backup racket she had not played with in a year. (It was Friday the 13th). The racket change clearly threw her game off. She didn’t score her first point until the second game of the second set. Dubin used 17 service aces and outpointed Carter, 48-9. The first set was completed in 14 minutes and the match was over in 31 minutes.
Carter said she had never broken a racket during a match before. “First time,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Duvall said Carter, who played third doubles last year, has come a long way with her game. “She’s three levels above what she was last year,” he said.
The other singles contests brought similar results in Southampton’s favor: Cecilia Schuerer beat Katharine Chmielewski, 6-1, 6-0, and Jade Kalbacher downed Amy Methven, 6-0, 6-1.
It has been an exciting start to the season for Riverhead. The Blue Waves’ first three matches have been 4-3 results, including a win over Hampton Bays and a loss to Mattituck.
“It’s a pleasure to coach this team,” Duvall said. “They’re unselfish players. They’re there rooting for each other, so it’s just fun to come to practice every day.”