If this is the golden era of Bishop McGann-Mercy girls tennis, the shine on that gilt may be getting duller.
The Monarchs have enjoyed great success, reaching the playoffs the past five years and compiling a 55-7 league record during that time. Prior to last season, they had an unbeaten string at home that lasted for nearly five years.
All of that, of course, was not by happenstance.
“We put a lot of time into the program,” said coach Mike Clauberg, referring to elementary school, junior high school and summer camp programs.
Currently, two former McGann-Mercy players, Liz Rossi (Mount St. Mary’s) and Cassidy Lessard (Wagner), are playing in college. The Monarchs undoubtedly wish they still had them. Clauberg, who is in his 13th year as the team’s coach, said he sees a lot of holes in his lineup.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think we’re going to pull any miracles this year,” he said. “This is one of my most inexperienced teams in a lot of years.”
McGann-Mercy went 12-6 last year, reaching the Suffolk County Team Tournament quarterfinals for the third year in a row. Returning to that stage will not be easy, although Clauberg said qualifying for the playoffs is a realistic goal. A League VII team, McGann-Mercy is ranked fifth among League VII and League VIII teams by the coaches. The Monarchs face a tough schedule, too. They will play four of the top eight teams in Suffolk in league matches: William Floyd, East Hampton/Bridgehampton/Pierson, Westhampton Beach and The Ross School.
Two seniors head McGann-Mercy’s returning cast, Shannon Merker and Jackie Zaweski. Merker, the team captain, played for the top two doubles teams as well as second singles last year. She was an all-division selection along with Jamie Lessard, a sophomore.
Speaking of Merker, Clauberg said, “She’s the best doubles player I ever coached.”
Delaney Macchirole, who played first doubles with fellow junior Micaela Zebroski last year, is also back. Magda Duda was part of the singles lineup last season at the No. 2 or No. 3 spot. Brittany Folkes played third doubles and fourth singles. Katie Brownfield was a third doubles player.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Clauberg said. “We’re going to be an underdog this year for the first time in a long time.”
Shoreham-Wading River has produced some pretty good players over the years, such as Cath Galvin, who was a two-time county champion, and Jennifer LoRusso, who has a county title on her résumé as well. Aimee Manfredo ranks right up there with them, according to coach Debbie Lutjen, who has been coaching in the program since 1984.
Private lessons and the experience of playing in United States Tennis Association tournaments has made a difference. Manfredo brings a 63-19 career record into her senior season and sixth at the varsity level. The two-time Division IV singles champion was a county runner-up who went 17-1 last year.
Lutjen said Manfredo is “very strong, very motivated. I think she’s very excited about her senior season. She loves the game.”
Although the lineup was being finalized, Lutjen said two sisters, freshman Joelle Benigno and eighth-grader Daniella Benigno, will play second and third singles. Michelle Hoffmann, a sophomore, and junior Anna Simos were competing for the fourth singles position. Heather Sager, a sophomore who was the junior varsity team’s top singles player last year, is projected to be a doubles player.
Another sophomore, Katya Perricone, is ranked sixth among singles candidates and is expected to fill a doubles spot. She is new to the team along with junior McKenna Farrell, freshman Amanda Betiberis and sophomore Katie Stern.
“We have a strong group of girls,” said Lutjen.
Riverhead (7-9) finds itself in an interesting situation in terms of personnel.
“I lost a lot but …,” said coach Jerry Duvall, who at the same time conceded that his team returns a good deal of experienced players, many of them juniors.
Since last year, Riverhead lost five players, all of whom were slotted in key lineup positions, and yet it’s not as if the Blue Waves can cry poverty. They still have seven players back who were in the lineup in 2012. That includes junior Lydia Keiffert, senior Michelle Behr and junior Katherine Chmielewski, who look destined for places in the singles lineup along with what Duvall referred to as “a player to be named later.”
That’s not a bad starting point. “Lydia, Michelle and Katherine are not bad singles players,” said Duvall.
Keiffert played first doubles and second singles last year behind the graduated Charlotte Palmer and seems poised to make the jump to first singles.
“She’s our most experienced singles player,” Duvall said. “She keeps the ball in play. She’s fast and runs real quick. She can make the other person run, too.”
Behr and Chmielewski both saw time at third and fourth singles, as did Samantha Carter, a junior.
Two juniors, Cassidy Brown and Abigail Wehunt, played a lot at first doubles and formed what Duvall called his most consistent doubles team. Another junior, Jessica Purick, has varsity experience as a doubles player.
Danielle Alaimo, a junior, and Amy Methven, a sophomore, are also returning players.
Courtney Troyan, a sophomore who was one of the top singles players on the junior varsity team last year, is a new addition. Perla Leon is a senior who can play doubles. Paired at doubles are juniors Kate Prjlaina and Danielle Alaimo, freshmen Taylor Marelli and Kathleen Gregory, and juniors Brianne Corwin and Stefanie Costello.
“These kids have great potential,” Duvall said. “They’re all gung-ho kids. They’re all anxious to play.”
Duvall said he appreciates the “team-first” attitude of his players. He said, “It may be the most unselfish team of players I’ve had the privilege to coach.”