BOB LIEPA PHOTO
Bri Ristau of Riverhead was a 6-0, 6-0 winner over Center Moriches’ Caroly Turkington.
Trying to figure out which way the wind was blowing on a breezy Monday afternoon, one might have been tempted to say it was in Riverhead’s direction. Just about everything else, after all, has been going the Blue Waves’ way in the opening weeks of the high school girls tennis season.
Riverhead’s second and third doubles teams both brought their records to 4-0 with wins in a 6-1 defeat of the visiting Center Moriches Red Devils. It was Riverhead’s third win in four Suffolk County League VIII matches, its best start to a season in almost 10 years.
“That’s a terrific start,” said Riverhead Coach Jerry Duvall, who cites a positive attitude and hard work for the early success of his young team, which has only three seniors.
The second doubles team of Juana Dobrzynski and Jessie Langdon beat the Center Moriches duo of Leyla Wahedi and Jena Winslow, 6-1, 6-0. Meanwhile, Riverhead’s No. 3 doubles team of Lydia Keiffer and Charlotte Palmer was a 6-0, 6-0 winner over Nikole Mangano and Arianna Wallace.
The No. 1 doubles pairing of Jordan Bernard and Meyling Zuniga contributed to Riverhead’s sweep of the three doubles matches with a 6-2, 6-3 decision over Rebecca Brockmann and Renee Stengel.
Riverhead’s first singles player, Sandra Ruttkayova, made 10 service aces and didn’t double fault once in her 6-2, 6-0 defeat of fellow junior Jessica Oswalt. Ruttkayova also limited herself to five unforced errors — all in the first set — in a match that saw the two players break each other’s serve in all but one of the first seven games. Ruttkayova outpointed her opponent, 52-17. The match took less than 47 minutes to complete.
Singles wins were also picked up for Riverhead by Bri Ristau (6-0, 6-0 over Caroly Turkington) and Alex Quintana (6-3, 6-0 over Miriam Imam). Ristau is 3-1.
Center Moriches, a second-year varsity team coming off an 0-12 inaugural season, dropped to 0-4 overall and in the league. The only point the Red Devils gained was in third singles, with Lindsey Murray winning the sole three-setter of the day, 6-2, 0-6, 6-4 over Elizabeth Morrison.
It proved to be a difficult serving day, with the wind playing tricks on balls tossed in the air.
“Serving in the wind definitely makes it tough,” said Oswalt, who double-faulted 13 times and put only 22 percent of her first serves in play. “I was pretty bad serving today from what I’m used to. Usually my serves are pretty good, but the wind was messing me up today.”
Ruttkayova took at least 50 extra serves with Ristau during practice before the match, and it evidently helped. She made good on all 16 of her second serves and half of her first serves.
“It was better than I expected it to be because when I was practicing before the match, nothing was going in,” Ruttkayova said. “I was getting a little frustrated. But once I got on the court, things clicked a little.”
Ruttkayova, who played mostly doubles last season, has worked on her serve along with the rest of her game. With the help of assistant coach Bob Lum, she has begun experimenting with a spin serve. All of that has helped her win the team’s top singles position.
Duvall said he saw an encouraging sign on the first day of school. Ten minutes after the bell rang, ending the school day, 10 tennis players were at the courts, ready to practice. “The other [teams’] kids weren’t out of the locker room yet, and our kids were here,” he said. “That’s a sign that this team really wants to play.”
The Blue Waves showed that on Sept. 15 when they pleasantly surprised their coach with a 4-3 defeat of the respected Rocky Point Eagles, who had beaten Riverhead, 6-1 and 7-0, last year. This time, though, Morrison won a clinching three-setter.
“That was one of my best days of coaching,” said Duvall.
In Center Moriches, Riverhead was facing an inexperienced team that is still adjusting to the varsity level. The Red Devils had posted double-digit wins at the junior varsity and middle school levels, but have since learned that varsity tennis is something else.
“There’s definitely a large gap between the ability of JV players and of varsity players,” Oswalt said. “Third doubles on a varsity team is like third singles on a JV team.”
But Center Moriches is a year more experienced, and that helps.
“I think they have a better understanding of the game, and they’re also more strategic,” Center Moriches Coach Robert Spicer said. “Last year I think we came to the net — all the singles players — maybe two or three times out of all the matches. They were just afraid.”
Spicer believes his team is close to recording its historic first win.
“I really, truly believe — and the girls feel the same way — it may be a win in the column,” he said, “but I think that we win every time we come out here by the way they’re playing.”