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.