The yellow visor Aimee Manfredo wore came off early in the first set of her Division IV singles championship match Tuesday afternoon. Struggling to place her serves on a windy afternoon and with her deficit growing against a hard-hitting seventh-grader, Manfredo ripped the visor off and tossed it onto the court at William Floyd High School.
The frustration was setting in for the defending champion as she muttered to herself under her breath.
“When I do things that might seem negative that helps me just let it all out and then I can focus better,” the Shoreham-Wading River junior said. “Throwing down my hat and screaming once or twice usually helps with that.”
No one knows better than Manfredo. After falling behind 4-1 in the first set against Jackie Bukzin, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, Manfredo rallied for the next five points to take the first set, 6-4. Soon after, she put the finishing touches on a 6-3 win in the second set to clinch the singles title for the second straight year.
She improved to 14-0 on the season and has yet to be pushed to a third set in any match. The championship win sends her into the Section XI tournament starting this weekend, where she could begin as a top-four seed.
The match was the first between Manfredo and Bukzin and it proved to be worth the wait. The two went back-and-forth all match with impressive volleys, zipping the ball across the net on the backhand and forehand.
“They have similar games,” said Shoreham-Wading River coach Debbie Lutjen. “They both hit the ball, they’re both aggressive. They both move well. So it really was a great match.”
A fierce competitor on the court, Manfredo routinely scolded herself during her early struggles.
But she was enjoying the experience all along.
“I was having a blast,” she said. “It doesn’t look like it, but it’s like chess. You’re having fun, but nobody looks it. You never see a person smile during chess unless they get checkmate.”
Lutjen said she knew Manfredo — a bubbly girl off the court — could bounce back from the early hole, even if she dropped the first set.
“I have been in awe of how well she’s played this year,” she said. “She needs to stay focused, stay positive. You don’t want to have any negative thoughts in your mind. But she got past that in the beginning.”
While both players are small in stature, they had little trouble generating impressive speed on their hits. Both players struggled with their serves at times as a stiff wind blew across the court from west to east.
It made for two different styles of play depending on which side of the court the player was on.
“On one side you’re trying to hit through the wind,” Manfredo said. “On the other side you kind of have to play with the wind. It’s completely different.”
Lutjen said there were more double faults than expected, requiring the players to lower the toss on their serve.
“You have to make adjustments,” she said.
A varsity member since seventh grade and a year-round tennis player, Manfredo travels to a club in Bethpage five times a week in addition to practices with the school team. She estimated she practices tennis about four hours a day.
The experience proved valuable in a tough match against a younger opponent.
In the normal league season playing for the Wildcats, Manfredo didn’t face an opponent quite on the level of Bukzin. But she often faces players of similar caliber in her USTA Tournaments.
“I think it worked to my advantage,” she said of playing a hard-hitting opponent. “I got more in my rhythm rather than a lobbing fest.”
Bukzin undoubtedly has a bright future and could be a tough out in the county tournament. The top four singles player from each division tournament advance to the county tournament.
Manfredo had a first-round bye in the division tournament before recording wins over Molly Kowalski (6-0, 6-1) and Carly Grossman (6-1, 6-0). In the semifinals Monday she won 6-3, 6-3 against McGann-Mercy senior Cassidy Lessard, who finished fourth in the tournament.
Lessard lost in the consolation final, 6-2, 6-1, against Noa Dubin of Southampton.
Manfredo said her upcoming goal for the county tournament is a top-three finish to earn a spot at the state championship.
“Last year I think I was one shy of making it to states,” she said.
Lutjen added: “I know her goal is she’d love to go to the state tournament and that’s what she’s been working hard for. If she plays well, I believe she can do it.”