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Girls Tennis Preview: SWR takes League VII challenge

Shoreham-Wading River has a proud history in girls tennis. Eleven league championships, four Suffolk County team finalists. Individually, the Wildcats have produced four county champions and 13 division champs.

Things were sort of sidetracked when SWR’s tennis courts fell into such disrepair that they were closed for a while, but new courts were built in 2016 and the Wildcats have been building up their team since.

“I’m looking to get back to where we were,” said coach Debbie Lutjen.

Last year wasn’t a bad start. SWR (13-3) was the League VIII champion. That earned the Wildcats promotion to League VII, where they will find the competition tougher and will face powers such as Westhampton Beach, William Floyd and East Hampton/Bridgehampton/Pierson. Five of the league’s six teams will qualify for the county team tournament.

“Even though we’re young, I’d rather go up and play better competition because that’s what’s going to get us back to where we used to be,” Lutjen said. “We have a lot of freshmen on varsity, but when you play better competition, you get better.”

SWR graduated nine players, six of whom were consistent starters; two others played on and off.

Brianna Arabio, a senior who played third singles and had the best record on the team (15-2) last year, starts the season in the No. 1 slot. “Brianna has improved tremendously since last year,” said Lutjen.

Catherine Erb (7-10), a freshman in her third year on the team, holds the second singles position. Juniors Alex Borriello and Stephanie Searing were in the other two starting singles spots.

Natalie Acker and Sydney Spuhler form an all-freshmen first doubles team. Kaitlyn Arabio (Brianna’s sister) teams with fellow sophomore Mika Misawa at second doubles. Meanwhile, Madison Dimpflmaier and junior Rosie Minneci are at third doubles.

Also in the mix for doubles are freshmen Katie Dinowitz and Joelle Ialacci.

Now, Lutjen wants her players to believe in themselves.

“What I always tell my girls, if you’re not going to step foot on the court believing you have a chance, don’t even get off the bus,” she said. “I think playing stronger competition is going to make us better, so if we do qualify for the county tournament, we have a better chance of advancing.”

Bishop McGann-Mercy has closed, but elements of its girls tennis team, the pride of the school’s athletic department, can be found scattered throughout the county. Rose Hayes, who last year became Mercy’s first division champion, is now making a strong Westhampton Beach team even stronger. Mercy’s No. 2 singles player from last year, Kelsey Bundrick, is a welcome addition to Mattituck.

But Riverhead (6-6) has done very good for itself with the additions of five — count them, five — former Mercy players. That’s not a bad haul.

And they’re all players who have made an instant impact. Entering the season, senior Ryan Waski was positioned at first singles, sophomore Joslyn Lessard was at fourth singles and senior Jordyn Stromski and junior Jillian Shackel were paired at first doubles while junior Lilly Kneidl held a spot at third doubles.

So, what’s it like playing on a new team with a lot of former teammates?

“It’s nice to have the old friends from Mercy to play together, but the rest of the team is very welcoming to us, so we’re grateful for that,” said Stromski.

The rest of the initial starting lineup has Meghan Carver at second singles, Gina Bassemir at third singles, Delu Rizzo and Leah Zenk at second doubles and Sofia Salgado at third doubles with Kneidl.

“I think we’re pretty good,” Stromski said. “I think that this team will make it far and hopefully we’ll have a great season.”

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Photo caption: Ryan Waski, a senior playing first singles, is one of five former Bishop McGann-Mercy players in Riverhead’s lineup. (Credit: Bob Liepa)