No shortage of challenges face the Shoreham-Wading River High School girls tennis team this fall. For one thing, the Wildcats do not have the use of their home courts, which have fallen into serious disrepair and are unplayable. If that wasn’t enough, for the first time in seven years, they will be without Aimee Manfredo, one of the top players in the program’s proud history.
It’s a lot for one team to absorb.
Start with the tennis courts. Once the envy of Suffolk County, they were the site for boys and girls division championships. But the courts have deteriorated over the years, to the extent that they were closed in March after the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District’s insurance company deemed them “hazardous” and “unsafe.”
Glen Arcori, the school district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said the pricetag for replacing the courts would be $750,000. Lighting would be an additional $420,000.
Another option would be to resurface the 10 courts, which it is believed would cost about $300,000.
The troubled tennis courts will be part of the discussion when Shoreham-Wading River’s Community Bond Committee will make recommendations for improvements to all of the district’s schools in a presentation to the school board on Sept. 9. The call for a public bond referendum in December is expected to arise out of those talks.
“We’ve been putting Band-Aids on [the courts] for years, just patching them, and it got to a point where we can’t do that any more,” said Debbie Lutjen, the Shoreham-Wading River coach who is also a member of the bond committee.
The Wildcats will play their home matches this season at Longwood Middle School, which recently had its six courts resurfaced.
Lutjen said she is grateful to the Longwood Central School District for the use of those courts as well as to the Village of Shoreham for the use of its two courts for a one-week camp for players this summer.
And then there is the loss of Manfredo, who is now playing for Bradley University (Ill.). Manfredo, a six-year varsity player for the Wildcats, was a New York State semifinalist in 2013. She was Newsday’s Long Island Player of the Year and The Riverhead News-Review’s Female Athlete of the Year for Shoreham-Wading River. She has one of the four county singles championships won by Shoreham girls (Cath Galvin has two and Jennifer LoRusso has the other one).
A player like that isn’t easily replaced.
In terms of team scoring, Manfredo typically brought the Wildcats one point with a first singles win, “but she was one guaranteed point,” said Lutjen.
Despite Manfredo’s absence, the Wildcats, League VIII runners-up last year, may have more depth than they did last year. Lutjen said all of the returning players are stronger. Michelle Hoffmann, McKenna Farrell, Anna Simos, Amanda DeTeberiis, Heather Sager, Katya Perricone and Katie Stern were all in the lineup last year.
Hoffmann, a junior, played fourth singles. The rest were doubles players. Farrell and Simos were paired together at first doubles, DeTeberiis and Sager played second doubles, and Perricone and Stern made up the third doubles team.
New to the team are Jillian Dinowitz, Alice Van Wickler, Kara Gately, Anya Wilcox and Kelly Bennett.
“We have some promising ninth-graders, but it’s going to take time for them to mature,” Lutjen said. She added, “They’re pushing each other to be better players, and I like that.”
Bishop McGann-Mercy, a small school with a knack for producing good tennis players, spent the past three years playing in League VII, and it has done quite well for itself. For three straight years, it finished among the top four teams in Conference IV, which encompasses Leagues VII and VIII.
Last year the Monarchs reached the second round of the county team tournament before a loss to Ward Melville capped their 9-8 season. That record is a bit deceptive. Seven of McGann-Mercy’s losses were to the top five teams in the county.
But change is in the air. Two all-county players, Shannon Merker and Jackie Zaweski, are no longer with the team. Merker is playing for St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. Also, the Monarchs have been dropped down to League VIII, where they are ranked second behind Mattituck by coaches.
Asked if he had mixed feelings about moving to League VIII, coach Mike Clauberg said: “It’s fine. It’s where we belong.”
The Monarchs still have talent. They have two all-county doubles players in seniors Delaney Macchirole and Micaela Zebroski. Macchirole, who is entering her fourth varsity season, is the team captain.
Jamie Lessard, a junior, and Nicole Gravagna, a freshman, are both all-league singles players.
Also returning are senior Magda Duda, junior Savannah Siejka, sophomore Angelica Osiniak and junior Katie Brownfield.
“I think we’re going to be very competitive,” Clauberg said. “I think we’re going to be strong. I think our goal is to play our best possible tennis at the end of the day, but we have a chance to finish at the top. We’ll see what happens.”
Believe it or not, Jerry Duvall has 20 players on his varsity team. It’s the largest roster he has ever carried in his 16 years as Riverhead’s coach, but there is an explanation for it that isn’t particularly uplifting. Because of budget cutbacks, Riverhead eliminated its junior varsity team. Duvall wants to keep players involved in the sport, thus the large roster.
It certainly presents a coaching challenge for Duvall, who doesn’t have an assistant coach to help him work with the 20 players.
“It’s a tough way to do it,” he said of trying to make the best out of a difficult situation. “You can’t give as much time as you need to to the beginners.”
Duvall believes his team may be a little stronger than it was last season, if only because there are more numbers to draw from. The key for the Blue Waves (7-9) this year may be whether they are able to pick up 2 team points from the three doubles matches. Duvall thinks he should be able to gain 2 singles points more often than not from four singles players who all played for the team last year.
Taylor Marelli, a sophomore, looks likely to play first singles, with junior Amy Methven in the No. 2 spot. Methven is not far ahead of senior Cassidy Brown and freshman Kathleen Gregory, said Duvall.
“There’s no standout singles player … but all four of those singles players are pretty even,” said Duvall.
Doubles is the big question mark, though.
Two seniors, Jessica Purick and Abby Wehunt, are candidates for first doubles. Other doubles pairings are Brianne Corwin and Kristen Campanelli, Stephanie Costello and Vanessa Hernandez, Olivia Ruszkowski and Natalie Sisalima. Sarah Zurawski and Kelly Falisi also play doubles. They are new to the team along with Emma Leja, Suzanne Llamas, Anna Pozamantir and Joseline Sunun.
Duvall, in an interview on Sunday, said, “We’ll be sorting it out in the next couple of days.”