Girls Tennis Preview: Mercy primed for another big year in tough league

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Mercy senior Marianne Naleski starts at second singles for the Monarchs.

Advanced scout work may seem like something reserved for coaches in football, basketball or lacrosse at the high school level.

But tennis?

At McGann-Mercy, where over the last seven years the Monarchs have developed into one of the top teams in Suffolk County, scouting may prove to be a huge key. Mercy coach Mike Clauberg said depending on the opponent, he can shift around his lineup between singles and doubles to find the best combination.

Competing in League VII, one of the toughest in the county, the Monarchs will need every advantage they can get to consistently win matches.

“Whatever we want them to do, they’re willing to do it,” Clauberg said. “Sometimes kids can’t be that versatile, but we have a couple kids that really are that versatile.”

The Monarchs’ record over the past four seasons speaks for itself: 50-2 in league. The Monarchs come into this season after a run to the quarterfinals of the county playoff tournament last year, where they fell 4-3 as the No. 7 seed to Half Hollow Hills West.

Competing in the more competitive league of Division IV last season, the Monarchs surprised some teams by finishing in second place. This year the Monarchs were again predicted to finish in the middle of the pack of League VII. But the Monarchs proved last year that preseason predictions don’t always mean much.

Mercy already has gotten off to a fast start this season by knocking off Westhampton, 4-3, Friday.

“Making the county tournament is definitely what our goal is,” Clauberg said.

While the Monarchs lost a few key players from last year, they do return some experienced players along with some newcomers from the JV.

Senior captain Cassidy Lessard, a third-year varsity player, will start off at first singles. Lessard was an all-division player last year and can play doubles as well.

Senior co-captain Marianne Naleski will play second singles and junior co-captain Shannon Merker will switch between third singles and first doubles. Merker was all-county last year in doubles, but her partner graduated. Junior Jackie Zaweski returns to play singles and doubles.

Sophomore Delaney Macchirole, the only other returnee from last season, will play doubles. She’s started off the season playing with sophomore Micaela Zebroski.

Junior Brittany Folkes, sophomore Magdalena Duda and freshmen Jamie Lessard and Kathleen Brownfiel will all play doubles as well. Lessard played on the JV last year as an eighth-grader and Brownfiel was the first singles player for the junior high team.

Freshman Margaret Naleski and sophomore Catherine Tumminello will also play doubles.

If there’s one thing the Riverhead girls tennis team won’t have to worry about this year, it’s having enough girls to fill the lineup each match. The Blue Waves, after an 8-6 season last year in League VIII, come into the season with a deep roster of 18 players.

Riverhead coach Jerry Duvall said with as many seniors as the team has, he didn’t want to make any cuts.

“The kids have a great attitude,” he said. “We had a super tryout week. A lot of close matches.”

The Blue Waves have plenty of depth, but many players are new to the varsity.

“Most of them are pretty strong,” Duvall said. “Hopefully once they get over the varsity jitters, they’ll play even better.”

Riverhead split its first two matches of the season, losing to defending league champion Mattituck, 5-2, and then beating Shelter Island, 6-1.

Duvall said he expects the team this year to have a good balance between singles and doubles. Last year, singles turned into a real strong point for the Blue Waves.

Starting off at first singles is junior Charlotte Palmer, a returnee who played some singles and doubles last season. Junior Lydia Keiffert moves up a spot to play second singles and junior Alex Quintana also bumps up a spot to play third singles. Junior Michelle Behr will start off at fourth singles.

“Kids are playing new positions pretty much,” Duvall said.

The Blue Waves’ two wins against Mattituck came at the second and third doubles spots, an encouraging sign to start the season in terms of the team’s depth.

Early on the Blue Waves are still trying to find the best combinations for doubles with all the players they have.

Seniors on the team include Danielle Alaimo, Juana Dobrzynski, Elia Gordon and Evelyn Greenwood.

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River junior Aimee Manfredo won the Division IV title last year and is looking for even bigger things this season.

The Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats won’t have the luxury Riverhead has when it comes to depth. The Wildcats open the season with 10 girls on the varsity, the minimum needed to play a match.

What the Wildcats may lack in depth they make up for in star power up front with junior Aimee Manfredo.

The defending Division IV champion, Manfredo has played on varsity since seventh grade, making this her fifth year on varsity.

Shoreham coach Debbie Lutjen said Manfredo has returned an even stronger player than last season.

“She’s an all-court player,” Lutjen said. “I think overall her strokes are even stronger this year. She’s very motivated to succeed.”

Manfredo enters the season as the favorite to win the division crown again. This year, however, her goal is to advance farther in the county tournament.

She lost in the quarterfinals last season.

“This year hopefully she can possibly make it to the state tournament,” Lutjen said.

The Wildcats were strong as a team last season as well, posting a 10-4 record in League VIII.

At second singles the Wildcats return senior Emma Stoll. Senior Natalia Rodriguez returns for third singles and senior Kiera Latham will play fourth singles.

The first doubles team to start has been senior Jaclyn La Sita and sophomore Anna Simos. Junior Rebecca Rhodes and Breslyn Naso play second doubles and freshmen Cassidy Latham and Michelle Hoffmann play third.

Nine players from last year’s team graduated.

The Wildcats opened the season with a 6-1 loss against William Floyd, typically one of the stronger teams in the county.

Lutjen said she’s hoping to recruit a few more players to round out the team in case any players get injured along the way.

The Wildcats will face a much tougher schedule this year as they moved up to League VII, the upper league of Division IV.

“My philosophy is if you play better competition, it’s going to make you better,” Lutjen said.

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