Tennis Preview: Weather makes for a challenging start to season

Riverhead captain Steve Velasquez and his teammates enjoyed a break in the weather during Tuesday's practice. (Credit: Garret Meade)
Riverhead captain Steve Velasquez and his teammates enjoyed a break in the weather during Tuesday’s practice. (Credit: Garret Meade)

Early preseason practices can be stressful enough for high school boys tennis coaches who feel the pressure of the clock as they hurry to ready their teams for the coming season. Positions need to be filled, challenge matches need to be played and lineups need to be determined, all with the sense that the calendar is working against them. The date of that first match gets closer by the day. 

This rough winter hasn’t made their life any easier. Because of snow and ice, some teams didn’t step on their courts until this week.

And even if some teams were fortunate enough to hold outdoor practices, they weren’t exactly dealing with the sort of pleasant weather conditions more commonly associated with tennis.

“I’ve been coaching a long time, and this is as bad as I’ve seen it,” said Shoreham-Wading River’s new varsity coach, Chris Bevelander.

As Bevelander spoke during an interview on Sunday, his Wildcats still had not practiced on their courts.

Teams can only do so much when practices are forced indoors. Indoor practices usually amount to a lot of conditioning work and hitting balls off the gym wall.

“We’re starting out behind and this weather is not helping,” Bevelander said. “I’m going to have the best conditioned team in the county but we haven’t hit a tennis ball” outside.

Riverhead coach Bob Lum called it the worst preseason weather he has ever experienced, but he seems to be taking it in stride, nonetheless. Asked if he has been stressed out by the weather, he replied: “No, not at all. I’ve been through this too many times. It’s New York and it’s winter. There you go. I’ve never done a season yet when it wasn’t cold during some time in March so I expect to deal with it.”

What Lum was taken aback by, however, was the sight of some of his players wearing T-shirts and shorts in frigid weather. “They’re actually making me cold to look at them,” he said.

Gym access can be a problem, too. Lum said he has used a classroom for conditioning work when forced indoors. But the Blue Waves had a head start on some other teams. Their practice on Tuesday was the fourth one they have held outdoors.

Others might be envious.

Bevelander had concerns beyond snow removal. Once the courts in Shoreham are cleared, what condition will they be in?

“We’re past worried,” he said. “If they ever clear up, there’s a very good possibility we wouldn’t have courts. That could be another problem. The first problem is to get on them.”

A welcome break came Tuesday when warmer weather arrived, with temperatures in the 60s. “Today’s a great day,” said Lum as his players hit balls to each other on a calm, sunny afternoon.

Bevelander, who had been Shoreham’s junior varsity coach, switched jobs with Rich Muller, who is now running the junior varsity team. A longtime veteran of the business and a former player for Sayville High School and Springfield College (Mass.), Bevelander has coached Ward Melville (1965-80), Bayport-Blue Point (1990-95), Sayville (1998) and St. John the Baptist (2003-04) before joining the Shoreham coaching staff last spring. His junior varsity team went 8-4 last year, posting its first winning record in about eight years, according to Bevelander.

Bevelander has his work cut out for him, taking over a team that went 2-13 last year.

“We might not have the skill levels, but the kids are very athletic,” he said.

Chris Kuhnle, a sophomore, has been Shoreham’s first singles player since he was in seventh grade. He reached the county tournament the last two years. Another sophomore, Doug DeMaio, played first doubles last year, advancing to the second round of the Conference IV tournament.

Similarly, Riverhead (0-12) had a rough season last year. The current team is one of the most inexperienced ones the Blue Waves have had in recent memory.

Three players from last year’s lineup are back: freshman Jens Summerlin, junior Steve Velasquez and sophomore Dylan Fava-Wiggins. All of them are expected to play singles.

Summerlin played first singles last year before breaking a finger three matches into the season. Velasquez, the team captain, played fourth singles or first doubles, and Fava-Wiggins also bounced back and forth between singles and doubles.

New to the team are Tim Saletel, Edgar Garcia, Alex Olivas, Jordy Perez, Dezman Miles, Juan Diaz, Andrew Figueroa and Ryan Seni. All of them are freshmen or sophomores, except for Saletel, a senior.

“I don’t have a tremendous amount of expectations but, you know, at the same point I’m optimistic,” Lum said. “I mean, why not?”

Lum takes an optimistic view of the weather, too.

The weather, he said, is “going to change. You know you’re going to get good weather. It’s just a matter of time.”

Time that can’t come soon enough for tennis players and coaches.

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