10/07/11 9:07pm
10/07/2011 9:07 PM

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Charlotte Palmer is one of five singles players who have been the strength of the Riverhead team.

The pendulum is swinging the other way now.

Last season the Riverhead High School girls tennis team won most of its match points in doubles. But for an explanation as to why the Blue Waves are doing as well as they are this year, one need look no further than their singles lineup.

Singles has been Riverhead’s strength and a big reason why it has won eight of its first 12 matches in Suffolk County League VIII prior to a 6-1 non-league loss to the visiting William Floyd Colonials on Friday.

The numbers don’t lie. Sandra Ruttkayova has an 8-2 singles record. Meyling Zuniga (8-6), Charlotte Palmer (6-5), Lydia Keiffert (9-4) and Alex Quintana (9-4) also held winning records through Friday’s match.

“All five of them, yeah, they’re very steady players and they play with a lot of heart and they don’t give up,” said Riverhead Coach Jerry Duvall.

Riverhead’s singles players may have themselves to thank for their success. With five players vying for four singles positions, the competition in practice matches is keen. Duvall said Zuniga, Palmer and Keiffert “have been playing just a breath apart the whole year.”

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Riverhead sophomore Lydia Keiffert, who was a doubles player last season, has a 9-4 singles record.

Competition generally makes for better players, and keeps them on their toes.

“Since we’re so close, you think, ‘I may not have this position next time because there’s someone not far behind me,’ so I have to do really well and prove that I’m meant for this position,” said Palmer, a junior with a level, smooth stroke.

Two of Riverhead’s singles players, Keiffert and Palmer, came from the doubles side of last year’s team. Those two primarily played second doubles, became friends and went 9-2.

Doubles and singles are not the same game. Keiffert, a sophomore, discovered that soon enough.

“Doubles is so different just because it’s more fun than stressful, less pressure,” she said. “Singles is so tough. I remember in the beginning of the season I was struggling to get [the No. 4 singles slot]. Now I’m at 2.”

The added pressure is fine with Keiffert, though. “I love the pressure, in a way, it being all on me,” she said.

In Riverhead’s final match last year, Duvall put Keiffert in the fourth singles slot for a match against the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats. Keiffert won a three-setter and made her coach a believer.

“That showed me there that she could handle it,” Duvall said. “She’s got a lot of heart.”

Although Ruttkayova usually plays first singles, the lineup has seen a good deal of fluidity. For example, through Friday, Palmer has played first singles, second singles, third singles and first doubles this season. Keiffert has played second singles, third singles, fourth singles and first doubles.

Players have shown improvement.

Palmer has played throughout the off-season, hitting a thousand balls a practice session. “It really helped my forehand,” she said. “It just became second nature.”

Quintana had been given the nickname “The Backboard” because of her ability to return shots. Well, “The Backboard” can do more than just return shots now. The junior has developed a good forehand, Duvall said, and can make shots of her own.

But the Blue Waves had their work cut out for them on Friday by William Floyd, which is making a run at the League VII championship. In all six of the individual matches that William Floyd won, Riverhead did not take more than two games.

Chelsea Bona was a 6-0, 6-0 winner over fellow senior Zuniga in a first singles match that was a lob-fest. The two players, with similar playing styles, played patiently, but Bona was more consistent and took advantage of Zuniga’s 32 unforced errors. Bona did not have a double fault and made 10 unforced errors.

“That’s the key to every match, try to cut down your unforced errors, try to be consistent, try to get your serves in,” said William Floyd Coach Dave Pia, whose team won for the 10th time in 12 matches. “The main thing is keeping your focus for these matches. … The person who maintains better focus throughout the match usually wins.”

More focus came from Christina Cali, a 6-0, 6-1 winner over Palmer, and Emily Vigliotta, a 6-0, 6-2 victor over Keiffert.

All three doubles matches went William Floyd’s way. Kelsey Henn and Devin Messina beat Yeugeniya Komzyuk and Ruttkayova, 6-0, 6-1; Kelsi Henn and Antonette Viglione scored a 6-2, 6-0 result against Milena Chrzanowska and Juana Dobrzynski; and Sydney Cerase and Alison Collins downed Brittney Martens and Nicole Treadwell, 6-2, 6-0.

The final match of the day was the most competitive — and the longest. Quintana prevailed, 6-3, 7-6 (9-7), over Erika Hesselbirg, in a fourth singles contest that took about two and a half hours to complete.

So, yes, singles play has improved for Riverhead, but Duvall’s work is not done. He said, “I’ve been looking for those elusive doubles wins.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

03/25/11 9:59pm
03/25/2011 9:59 PM

MASTIC BEACH — Contrary to what many people think, when a student leaves his or her classes for the day, the learning process does not stop.

Just ask the Riverhead High School boys tennis team. The Blue Waves’ season-opening match at William Floyd High School on Friday was a learning experience in so many ways.

On a cold and blustery March afternoon, the Blue Waves dropped their Suffolk County League VIII match to the Colonials, 6-1.

“Brutal weather,” Riverhead Coach Bob Lum said. “A little cold for tennis. But everyone hung in there, persevered, which was good. The wind is a factor. It’s as windy for them as it is for us.”

No one used the strong and unpredictable wind as an excuse, but it certainly did make for some unique adjustments and some reminders from Lum.

“You can coach them, give them some advice, shorten their strokes, shorten their backswing, finish their shots,” he said. “Once it gets windy out there and they’re not used to it, it takes its toll.”

For freshmen Brian Chinchilla and Tim Saletel, participating in a competitive tennis match was a completely new experience. Their introduction to the sport came several weeks ago when they tried out for the team. Their debut as a second doubles team was a 6-0, 6-0 defeat to Kings Park’s Nick Parris and Dylan Ernst.

“I was a little nervous at first,” Saletel said. “The key thing the coach told us was to relax, have fun, just go out there and play your best. If you lose, you lose. If you win, you win. Just give it all you got.”

Saletel said he “learned that competition is tough. There are other schools out there that are really good. I think the team we played together did really good. But that’s what you get for being one of the top two. We were the second doubles team. You get better competition. I just learned that I’ve got to step it up and maybe just improve for the next game.”

Chinchilla agreed.

“I learned that I still have a lot to learn and that I could get better if I actually try,” he said. “I can accomplish many things, I guess, if I work on it.”

The Blue Waves’ lone winner was senior Efe Erol, who bested Dhruv Patel, 8-6. 6-1.

“Things went great for me today,” Erol said. “At first I thought I would go out there and play hard. Then I went on a winning streak. Then I got a little nervous because I [thought I] can’t lose this now.”

In fact, he learned a thing or two about himself.

“It was really important to relax,” he said. “Relaxing was something I could never be because I was stressed out. I felt in my mind I was relaxed. … I stayed cool the whole time.”

Seth Conrad, the sophomore first singles player, was not as fortunate, losing to Kevin Ferguson, 6-3, 6-0.

“I do know what I could have done better,” Conrad said.

“Over time it comes to me. But when you play a game with other people, you see them do things. You have to figure out how to do them and how to react to them. It helps you figure out how you need to play, how you need to practice.”

Geoff Wells, a junior playing second singles, dropped a 6-0, 6-0 decision to Sebastian Alvarez.

Lum said he was “a little disappointed on the first and second singles. I thought they could do better. It was the first match, so we’ll see.”

The third singles player, junior John Rios, battled Ryan Kelly to three sets, but lost, 6-3, 2-6, 4-6.

The No. 1 doubles team of Andrew Plattner and Parker Ellis lost to Cory Paladino and Brandon Jiang, 6-3, 6-0, while the third doubles duo of Christian Aguire and Joe Inzalaco were downed by Tyler Fichtnero and Lenny Latendresse, 6-1, 6-0.

“The doubles teams have to get more consistent,” Lum said. “They still have to work together more.

“I was encouraged by the first doubles. They were coming to the net a lot. If they lost a point, it was at the net. That’s where I want them to lose points.”

02/21/11 7:17pm
02/21/2011 7:17 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead players rejoiced following their team's first-round playoff victory over William Floyd.

Layups, putback attempts, chip shots, you name it. They were all makeable shots, and yet, the Riverhead Blue Waves weren’t making them.

For a significant portion of Monday’s first-round girls basketball game in the Suffolk County Class AA Tournament, shots weren’t dropping for the Blue Waves. The ball wasn’t bouncing or rolling Riverhead’s way.

“I was like, ‘Oh God,’ ” said Riverhead guard Shaniece Allen.

In the end, though, Riverhead managed to pull things together and advance beyond the first round of the playoffs for the first time in three years as Allen scored the final seven points in a 52-48 defeat of the visiting William Floyd Colonials.

It was anything but easy.

The sixth-seeded Blue Waves (14-5) had to sweat this one out, overcoming obstacles along the way. For one thing, they started the game hitting only three of their first 14 field-goal attempts. They later saw their top two rebounders, Melodee Riley and Kayla Nazario, foul out. They missed 15 free throws, going 21 for 36 from the foul line. And, they were getting beat on the boards.

It was time for them to be concerned.

“I have to say I was frustrated and nervous,” said Riverhead guard Jalyn Brown.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Shaniece Allen of Riverhead flew toward the basket while William Floyd's Jackie Andersen defended.

But Riverhead kept its composure and came through when it counted. While William Floyd coaches tried unsuccessfully to get the officials’ attention to call a timeout, Riverhead’s Mariah Messina stole the ball and passed to Allen, who made a layup, giving the Blue Waves a 49-48 lead with about a minute remaining. Allen, a sophomore, later made a big steal herself and drew a foul with 6.1 seconds left. She made the two resulting free throws for the game’s final points.

Messina made another steal before passing to Allen, in whose hands the ball rested when the final buzzer sounded. That was appropriate. Allen ended up with 18 points, 11 steals, five assists, two rebounds and a block. Brown and Riley added 15 points each in Riverhead’s fifth win in six games.

“This team has been down before and they’ve always come back,” Riverhead Coach Dave Spinella said. “It’s a team that’s never out of it. So, all the credit in the world to them. The kids responded.”

While the Blue Waves missed easy scoring chances, they watched No. 11 William Floyd (9-10) take a 19-8 lead on a conventional three-point play by Dominique Ross 1:15 into the second quarter.

Riverhead managed to whittle that deficit down to six points by halftime. By then it was well clear that this wasn’t the same William Floyd team that had lost a non-league game to Riverhead by 17 points in December. After starting its season 0-6, the Colonials saved their season by winning nine of their next 12 games.

“We’re a different team,” William Floyd Coach Bob O’Driscoll said, illustrating the difference a couple of months can make.

One of the players making a difference was Monique Walker. The senior forward struck for 18 points and eight rebounds in her final high school game.

Both sides had foul issues. Melissa Outsen of William Floyd fouled out with 1:31 left in the third quarter. She was later joined on the bench by another William Floyd starter, Ross, who picked up her fifth personal foul with 1:36 to go.

William Floyd was whistled for 28 fouls and Riverhead had 16 called against its side.

Riverhead saw two of its starters foul out as well. Nazario and Riley both made their exits within seven seconds of each other in the fourth quarter. The Blue Waves played the final 5:01 with them both sitting on the bench.

“It was a shock,” Brown said. “We were like, ‘Who’s going to rebound for us?’ ”

Two reserve players, Marta Czaplak and Messina, came to the rescue, helping Riverhead in its time of need.

“We didn’t want the season to be over,” said Allen.

The next stage for Riverhead will not be an easy one. The Blue Waves will play at No. 3 Sachem East (15-2), the defending state champion and League I title-holder, in the second round on Thursday.

“It’s exposure for our team,” Brown said. “Now let’s just go out to Sachem East and show them what we have.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

12/17/10 8:53pm
12/17/2010 8:53 PM

MASTIC BEACH — Much like the beginning of her Riverhead High School basketball career, Kaila-Riane Nazario’s start against the William Floyd Colonials was not much to talk about.

But once the sophomore forward got going, she was difficult to stop Friday night.

Nazario scored two points in the opening quarter, but found her way the rest of the non-league game, pumping in 13 of her game-high 21 points in the second half of a 60-43 win at Floyd.

Junior forward Melodee Riley added 10 points and junior guard Jalyn Brown eight as the Blue Waves (3-2, 1-0 Suffolk County League III) converted 23 of 29 foul shots for a sizzling 79.3 percentage.

“That’s pretty exceptional,” Riverhead Coach David Spinella said of the free-throw shooting.

But then again so was the Blue Waves’ accomplishment.

“Floyd’s a very good team,” Spinella added. “They’re going to be tops in League I. So this is a big win for us on the road on a Friday night.”

Spinella said his team played “better in the second half. We avoided the second-chance points. We had to keep them off the boards and we stopped turning the ball over. Those were the big things.”

So was Nazario’s performance, although it took the 5-foot-9 transfer from Williamsburg, Va., a while to adapt to a new system and a new team.

“I’m fitting in good,” she said. “It was eh in the beginning, but I worked to get my spot. I had to learn all about them, what they did. I had to learn how they play.”

After scoring only four points in Riverhead’s opening two losses, Nazario broke out with 17 points in a 62-48 victory at Patchogue-Medford on Dec. 14.

“I’m having a lot of fun,” she said. “I enjoy it. It’s a new style of play. The rules are different. The speed is faster.”

Nazario showcased her talent and potential Friday by scoring in a variety of ways, including a layup, a five-foot shot, off a rebound, off a turnover, from the corner and one three-point shot. She also was a perfect 6-for-6 from the foul line.

Spinella has liked what he has seen, but realized there is plenty of room for improvement.

“She’s going to be a good player,” he said. “Offensively, she’s got some things she can do. She definitely needs to improve defensively and then she will be complete. We’ve all got a lot of work to do.”

Nazario and Riverhead weren’t fazed by the fact that Floyd started five seniors, including forward Monique Walker (team-high 17 points). The Blue Waves don’t have a senior on their roster and their starting lineup is dominated by juniors and sophomores.

“We just go out and play and try our hardest,” Nazario said. “We don’t get intimidated. We just work for our best. We work to get our spot.”

Riverhead stumbled early on. Brown hit a three-point shot nine seconds into the game, Floyd (0-5, 0-1 League III) went on a 12-2 tear to grab a 12-5 advantage with 3 minutes 34 seconds left in the first quarter.

“We’ve been starting out a little rough,” Riley said. “But once we get into it we get better as we go along.”

Added Nazario, “We just get back on our feet and do what we have to do.”

The Blue Waves pressured defensively and pulled to within 15-13 by the end of the period. Nazario asserted herself with six points in the second quarter as Riverhead took the lead for good, 29-28, on a three-pointer by sophomore guard Shaniece Allen (six points) with 26 seconds remaining.

Riverhead lived on the foul line in the third quarter. The visitors scored only one field goal, but converted 11 of 14 free throws — Nazario put away her six attempts — as they extended their lead to 42-36 by the end of the period.

“It’s not like that in every game,” Nazario said of the team’s foul shooting. “We’ve been working on it, getting it together.”

“If we started missing, those could add up in the end if we lose,” said Riley, who put away 6 of 9 free-throw attempts. “We have to make sure we get those in because they always count.”

After Floyd moved within 45-39 at 2:10 of the fourth quarter, Riverhead pulled away with a 7-0 burst in a 1:58 span behind Brown’s four points for a 52-39 lead.

Riverhead opened its League III season Tuesday with a 69-29 home win over the Newfield Wolverines.

“It’s early,” Spinella said. “We still have a lot of work to do. We just can’t hang our heads on this one game. We’ve got to go back to work on Sunday morning and do what we’ve got to do.”