At long last, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
After years of seeing their once-revered tennis courts fall into disrepair, to the point of being condemned and shut down, the Shoreham-Wading River tennis team will soon have a new home.
Girls tennis coach Debbie Lutjen said she’s hopeful the new blue-and-green courts, which are under construction after voters approved a $48.5 million project in January to upgrade facilities across the district, will be ready in time for the team to play perhaps a few matches by the end of this season.
In the meantime, as the Wildcats did last year, they’ll open their season by practicing and playing matches at Longwood Middle School as a temporary home. The regular season, which kicked off Wednesday with the Wildcats sweeping Riverhead 7-0, extends until Oct. 30.
“I’m hoping the end of September or first week of October we can get on and get a match or two before the season ends,” said Lutjen, the Wildcats’ longtime coach who also led the boys team last spring.
The Wildcats’ season gets off to a fast start with three consecutive days of matches this week. The Wildcats play their first “home” match Friday against Southold/Greenport.
Shoreham returns its No. 1 singles player from a year ago in senior Michelle Hoffman. She took over the top singles spot that had long been held by Aimee Manfredo, the Wildcats’ 2013 county champion. Hoffman held her own last year, posting a 6-8 record against each team’s top player.
“I think she’ll improve this year,” Lutjen said. “She’s a good, solid, consistent player.”
Hoffman won her first round matchup at the Division IV tournament last year before losing to the No. 2 seed in the second round.
Jillian Dinowitz, a sophomore, will line up as the second singles player, Lutjen said. She mostly played at third and fourth singles last year.
Jackie Pitts, a junior, will bump up to third singles after playing on the JV team a year ago. Lutjen said Pitts has gotten off to a strong start this season.
Senior Katya Perricone will start at the fourth singles spot. She often played doubles last year.
The doubles combinations, as they often are at the start of the year, are still up in the air. Lutjen said Amanda De Tiberiis, a junior, will play doubles. Other doubles players include junior Anya Wilcox, sophomores Kara Gately, Jacqueline Colalillo, Caroline Kelly, Alice VanWickler, and freshman Brianna Arabio.
The Wildcats return to play in League VIII this year, the lower half of Division IV.
“I think we’ll improve on last year because a lot of the players are back,” Lutjen said.
The Wildcats will face some tough competition from a perennially strong Bishop McGann-Mercy team. The Monarchs bumped down to the lower league last season and finished behind Mattituck for the league title. The Tuckers have since bumped into the upper league after several strong seasons, now opening the door for Mercy.
The Monarchs will have a number of holes to fill from last season’s roster, including three singles positions. Two of the girls from last year who played doubles are playing tennis in college, said coach Mike Clauberg. The senior duo last year of Delaney Macchirole and Micaela Zebroski earned all-county honors last year. Both could have been top singles players if they hadn’t paired up for doubles, Clauberg said.
“We have a brand-new team,” Clauberg said. “I have some girls that are pretty flexible who can play singles or doubles.”
The Monarchs return their No. 1 singles player, senior captain Jamie Lessard. She’s played on varsity since her freshman year, Clauberg said.
“She’s a really great athlete,” Clauberg said.
Other returning players include seniors Shannon Kavanagh and Katie Brownfiel. Kavanagh played doubles last year and will likely line up mostly at doubles again.
Brownfiel can play singles or doubles.
“She’s been playing for us since she was a freshman on the team,” Clauberg said. “We’re expecting her to really step up this year.”
Junior Angelika Osiniak can also play singles or doubles.<\n>“She’s very consistent and loves tennis,” Clauberg said.
A third doubles team that went undefeated in league last year returns this year in Alex Waski and Savannah Siejka.
The Monarchs have strong numbers overall in the program with 16 varsity players and 20 more on the JV, Clauberg said.
At Riverhead, a new yet familiar face will be on the sidelines. Longtime coach Jerry Duvall, who estimated he’s been coaching since the early ’90s, decided to step down as the team’s coach. “I enjoyed my career very much,” he said. “It’s time to move on.”
Replacing Duvall will be the boys coach, Robert Lum.
Lum could not immediately be reached for an interview.