10/28/10 7:37pm
10/28/2010 7:37 PM

WEST ISLIP — Lindsay Merker could handle the pressure she faced on the tennis court. It was what followed after the match that caught her off-guard.

After Merker delivered the result that enabled the Bishop McGann-Mercy High School girls tennis team to play another day, she was mobbed by joyous teammates. The surge of emotion she felt was evidenced by the tears of joy that rolled down her cheeks.

It was Merker’s dramatic victory in her fourth singles match that earned the Monarchs a rare place in the quarterfinals of the Suffolk County Team Tournament. The senior pulled out a tiebreaker triumph over Kate Winter, lifting 24th-seeded McGann-Mercy to a 4-3 upset of the No. 8 West Islip Lions on Thursday.

With what has to be considered one of the biggest wins in team history, League VIII champion McGann-Mercy (16-2) claimed a place in the quarterfinals tomorrow against the No. 1 Half Hollow Hills East Thunderbirds (13-1). McGann-Mercy Coach Mike Clauberg said it is either the first or second time that the Monarchs have advanced this far in the team tournament.

“I’m still in shock,” Merker, who called it the greatest moment of her tennis career, said while cheers of the team’s happy fans could be heard in the background.

After coasting through the first set, 6-2, Merker took a 5-2 lead in the second set. Then things got interesting.

Winter recovered to win the next four games for a 6-5 lead, but failed to capitalize on four set points. Merker forced a tiebreaker and then cruised, 7-0.

Merker said she felt confident going into the tiebreaker. “It’s also mental because you have to never let yourself get down because once that happens, it’s all over,” she said. “You have to always stay mentally tough.”

Players and fans from both teams watched the final match of the day with great interest. Merker said she wasn’t aware of the significance of her match and was glad she didn’t. But she liked the cheering, which she said helped her focus.

“I knew I had to stop her and not let her beat me for a third set,” Merker said. “I made a lot of errors that I shouldn’t have made, like drop shots, but errors happen. No one’s perfect.”

Clauberg said he was happy for Merker.

“If I had to pick any kid to get that win for us, I would pick her,” he said. “She is just a coach’s dream. She’s a nice person. She works so hard during the off-season, probably [the] most committed tennis player I have on the team.”

West Islip Coach Kevin Lewis said the performance by Winter was typical of her in the sense that she is a battler. The coach said that during the match he gave Winter some advice. “I said, ‘All I want you to do is stay focused and try your best,’ ” Lewis said. “I said, ‘If you try your best, that’s all you can ask of yourself.’ ”

Merker can thank her sister, Shannon, for the part she played in helping set up the pivotal fourth singles match. It was Shannon Merker and Taryn Enck who brought McGann-Mercy a vital win at second doubles, tying the team score at 3-3. They prevailed in three sets over Kelly Kickel and Teresa Oskinis, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Thanks to wins from the first three singles matches, League III champion West Islip (13-2) held a 3-2 lead in team points.

Despite troubling back pain that hampered her serve, Erin Collins, a senior transfer from nearby St. John the Baptist, persevered in a 6-3, 6-2 defeat over Ashley Yakaboski in first singles. Collins put only 64 percent of her first serves in play, but she also committed only two double faults and broke Yakaboski’s serve six times.

In Yakaboski, a virtual ball-return machine, Collins was facing a player much like herself.

“All defense,” said Collins, who had ice taped to her back after the match. “That’s kind of the style that I play, so when I play with someone with the same style, the points are going on forever.”

The other two singles matches were settled in two sets as well. Sam Sienkiewicz was a 6-0, 6-0 winner over Elizabeth Barlow, and Kerri Coughlin recorded a 7-5, 6-0 win over Cassidy Lessard.

But doubles has been a point of emphasis for McGann-Mercy this year, and it has made a difference. The Monarchs took all three points from doubles.

The first doubles team of Erica Blanco and Kayleigh Macchirole produced a 7-5, 7-5 defeat of Ibrianna Frame and Amanda Gedrey. In third doubles, Stefanie Blanco and Maryann Naleski downed Emma Lytell and Alia Rafig, 6-4, 6-1.

“Everybody contributed in such a strong way,” Clauberg said. “Everybody fought.”

West Islip had won all five of its previous 4-3 matches this season, but this one went against the Lions.

Shock waves may reverberate throughout the county because of this result, but the Monarchs are not surprised. Some of them said they were just underestimated. The Monarchs might have proved that their 4-3 victory over the No. 9 Patchogue-Medford Raiders in an outbracket match seven days earlier was no fluke.

“We’re pretty good,” Lindsay Merker said. “We have some good players.”

West Islip wouldn’t argue that point.

bliepa@timesreview.com

10/27/10 7:18pm
10/27/2010 7:18 PM

The turning point came midway through the first set.

Mattituck ‘s Erica Bundrick was leading Karen Serena, the No. 3-seed from East Islip, 3-1 in the quarterfinal round of the Suffolk County girls tennis individual championship Monday afternoon at Smithtown East. Bundrick, who had beaten Bayport’s Laura Torsiello, 6-4, 6-2, in the opening round on Saturday, was on the verge of taking a 4-1 lead against Serena.

But after Bundrick’s being on a marvelous roll the past three weeks, the one stroke that betrayed her was her serve. She double-faulted, which allowed Serena to climb back into the match at 3-2. Serena then ran the table on Bundrick, winning the match 6-3, 6-0.

“I was pleased with the way Erica played,” Mattituck coach Jim Christy said. “She just double faulted too many times. You just can’t give away points at critical moments.”

Christy said that part of Bundrick’s maturation process will be learning how to “deal with the highs and lows of a match.”

Bundrick, a junior, swept past Torsiello in the opening match.

“Erica played every point like it was the final point of the match,” Christy said. “She has learned that when you stay in the present, it brings consistency. When your head is set right, the strokes will follow.”

Christy said that Bundrick has learned that “when she is consistent, she can play with anybody.”

“The key is recognizing our potential,” he said. “If we don’t see it, we hold back and don’t play with confidence. Erica is a very good athlete. When she realized in the East Hampton match a few weeks ago that ‘I can play with these people,’ everything changed. She was able to move people around and make them change their game. Someone was going to break, but it wasn’t going to be her.”

In the Suffolk County team championship, the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs, the 24th-seed, pulled off an upset in the opening round on Oct. 21, winning at ninth-seeded Patchogue-Medford, 4-3.

Mike Clauberg, the Mercy coach, called the win “huge.”

Clauberg said that over the years he has felt his team has not always been seeded as high as it should have been.
“We’ve been in the playoffs the past couple of years, but we still get no respect,” he said. “But we still got the win. It was a big upset.”

Mercy was trailing in the overall match 3-2 and needed to win at second singles and second doubles to pull out the team victory.

The Monarchs had lost two of the first three singles matches, as Patchogue-Medford’s Hanna Lazio swept Mercy’s Ashley Yakaboski, 6-0, 6-0, and Alena Erhart topped Lindsey Merker, 6-1, 6-4. Mercy’s Cassidy Lessard topped Alicia Kraemer, 6-1, 6-0. Clauberg said that Lessard “really stepped up. She was in the zone.”
Mercy then split the first two doubles matches, as the Monarchs’ Kayleigh Macchirole and Erica Blanco triumphed over Cristina Valente and Brigid Logan, 6-2, 6-2. Patchogue-Medford’s Sydney Shandel and Victoria Makolik beat Maryann Naleski and Stefanie Blanco, 6-2, 6-3.

The second singles and second doubles matches were deadlocked at one set apiece.

“We needed both to win in the third set,” Clauberg said, “and that is just what they did.”

The Monarchs’ Elizabeth Barlow came from behind to defeat Brianna Vernoia, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.

“After the first set, Elizabeth made the proper adjustments,” Clauberg said. “She really came up big.”

Now, it all came down to second doubles. Mercy’s Shannon Merker and Taryn Enck trailed Tiffany Maroquin and Kierstin Berwick 3-4 in the third set. But on a crucial stretch of points, Merker hit a magnificent lob and Enck put away the return shot to give the Monarchs the game and the momentum. Merker and Enck went on to win 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-4 to lift Mercy to the stunning upset.

Mercy was scheduled to play at eighth-seeded West Islip yesterday.

sports@timesreview.com

10/12/10 7:55pm
10/12/2010 7:55 PM

A funny thing happened on the way to a rebuilding a season — the Bishop McGann-Mercy High School girls tennis team won a championship. That’s right, another one. Who would have thought?

Certainly not the Monarchs.

With McGann-Mercy having lost eight players from last year, Coach Mike Clauberg’s expectations for this season were modest. After all, the Monarchs returned only three players from 2009: singles player Elizabeth Barlow and the first doubles team of Taryn Enck and Kayleigh Macchirole.

“Everyone was new besides the three of us, so we really didn’t know what was going to happen,” Barlow said. “A whole bunch of new girls, we knew there was talent, but we thought there would be no chemistry, but everyone clicked.”

The Monarchs claimed at least a share of their third straight league title — and fourth in sixth years — with a 6-1 defeat of the Rocky Point Eagles on Friday. Then the Monarchs topped that on Tuesday, assuring themselves of sole possession of first place in Suffolk County League VIII with a 6-1 win over the Hampton Bays Baymen in Riverhead .

The Monarchs (13-2, 13-0) may have surprised opponents; they surely surprised themselves.

“This is the biggest shock of my entire coaching career,” said Clauberg, who figured his team would be looking at third place, at best, this year.

How wrong he was. New players filled in wonderfully and produced results.

“It was like a whole new team,” Macchirole said. “This team showed me so much because I didn’t expect it at all.”

The Monarchs have won 79 games and lost 26 heading into their final regular-season match Thursday against the Riverhead Blue Waves. McGann-Mercy, which will be making its third straight appearance in the Suffolk Team Tournament, suffered its only two losses in non-leaguers to the East Hampton/Bridgehampton Bonackers and the William Floyd Colonials.

“I definitely think a lot of people underestimated us, but we definitely pulled through,” one of McGann-Mercy’s new players, sophomore Cassidy Lessard, said. “I think the girls are really excited. There’s a lot of meaning behind it, especially for our seniors. For the ones who were on the team last year, it was really great for them to have another league championship.”

For Barlow, Enck and Macchirole, it was their third straight league title as well. They join Liz Rossi and Brooke Lessard as the only McGann-Mercy players to have played on three league champion teams. Over the past three years, the Monarchs have put up a staggering 43-4 record.

Barlow, who played second singles for most of the season and first singles on Tuesday, said this latest championship is “probably the sweetest because I feel as if I had more of a part in it, not like I didn’t have parts in the others, but I feel like I’m a big component in this one.”

McGann-Mercy secured its 10th straight win on Tuesday and extended its league winning streak to 40 matches, a string that started in 2007.

All six of McGann-Mercy’s points on Tuesday came in tidy two-set affairs. The match of the day might have been at second singles, which saw Lessard score a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Davie Romer.

More wins for the Monarchs came from Lindsey Merker and Stefanie Blanco at third and fourth singles, respectively. Merker beat Lulu Zhou, 6-0, 6-0, and Blanco was a 6-0, 6-1 winner over Casandra Phillips.

Meanwhile, McGann-Mercy swept the three doubles matches with easy wins posted by the pairings of Erica Blanco and Macchirole (6-0, 6-1 over Abby Kraycar and Darby Tupper), Shannon Merker and Ashley Yakaboski (6-0, 6-0 over Klaudia Maslowska and Chessa Sheppard), and Caitlin Lalor and Jackie Read (6-1, 6-1 over Jackie Mogollon and Carly Rosenberg).

The only point for Hampton Bays (2-10, 2-10) came from Tarrin Joslin at first singles. Joslin’s formidable serve and ground strokes helped her to a 6-2, 6-4 defeat of Barlow.

Prior to the match, McGann-Mercy’s final home contest of the season, assistant coach Dave Lessard presented flowers to the three McGann-Mercy seniors who were present at an emotional on-court ceremony: Barlow, Lindsey Merker and Macchirole. (The team’s fourth senior, Enck, has missed most of the season because of illness.)

“I was almost crying,” said Barlow. Referring to having played her final match on McGann-Mercy’s courts, she said, “It kind of hasn’t set in yet, but it’s sad, it’s really sad.”

Then again, there is the happiness of another league title, an impressive accomplishment for a school with the third-smallest student enrollment in Suffolk.

Clauberg attributed the title to off-season programs, camps, and players taking private lessons.

“We really work hard at practice,” Cassidy Lessard said. “We play in the off-season constantly. There’s a lot of dedication throughout the whole team.”

The results speak for themselves. So much for rebuilding.

bliepa@timesreview.com