One of the most striking things about Catherine Erb, quite simply, is her age. After all, she is only just now entering her sophomore year in high school, and she’s already a seasoned veteran for the Shoreham-Wading River girls tennis team.
“It’s amazing that she’s only a 10th-grader,” said coach Debbie Lutjen.
Part of the reason for that is it seems as if Erb has been around for a while. She was brought onto the varsity team as a seventh-grader.
And then, of course, there’s the way she plays. She has the strokes. She has the moves. She has the know-how. She can play at the baseline or at the net.
Not only that, she has a wealth of athleticism.
“I think her all-around athletic ability is an advantage that she has over other players,” said Lutjen.
All of the above helped the All-County Erb finish fourth in the Division IV Tournament and reach the county individual tournament. SWR’s returning first singles player went 14-8 last year for the Wildcats (8-8), who lost to Patchogue-Medford in the first round of the Suffolk County Team Tournament.
Yet, for all Erb offers, what Lutjen likes best about her team extends beyond her top singles player. She likes the depth.
After Erb, the team’s next five strongest players are evenly matched, Lutjen said, as is the case with the next four players after them. That makes for good practices and gives a coach options.
“You can interchange things with singles and doubles if something’s not working,” Lutjen said. “They’re going to be very competitive with one another and very interchangeable. There’s flexibility there with doubles combinations to see what works best.”
Heading into this week, it looked as if sophomore Sydney Spuhler would be slotted at second singles, freshman Eliza Undrus (who played middle school tennis last year) at third and senior Alex Borriello at fourth.
Ranking after them were freshman Emily Desroches, sophomore Natalie Acker (who will probably play first doubles), senior Stephanie Searing, sophomore Katie Dinowitz, sophomore Joelle Ialacci, junior Mika Misawa, junior Kaitlyn Arabio, senior Rosie Minneci, junior Claire Wing, seventh-grader Charlotte Erb (Catherine’s sister), freshman Kristin Tortora and senior Tara Mirabell.
Lutjen was experimenting with possible lineups. “We’re going to see what combinations work together to give us three really good doubles teams,” she said.
Lutjen believes the presence of young players like Desroches and Undrus — not to mention the still-young Catherine Erb — bode well for a bright future.
“Looking at that, we should be stronger than last year,” she said. “I think we have good depth, so we’ll see how we develop. I think we’re climbing that ladder again, and we’re going to continue to get stronger.”
That’s the hope in Riverhead, where a new coach is running things. Vic Guadagnino has taken the coaching reins from Rose D’Orsogna, and his reaction to the experience through the first week of practice speaks for itself.
“It’s been great. I have to tell you, I absolutely love it,” he said. “It’s fantastic. I’m loving the experience.”
Guadagnino inherits a team that went 8-3 last year. The Blue Waves have a singles lineup of sophomore Isabella Pagnozzi, junior Joslyn Lessard, senior Meghan Carver and senior Gina Bassemir.
Among the doubles players are seniors Sofia Salgado, senior Leah Zenk, senior Jillian Shackel, senior Jordan Curran and senior Delu Rizzo. Guadagnino said he wasn’t sure exactly where senior Lilly Kneidl and junior Julianne Williams will fit in the mix.
For the first time in a handful of years, Riverhead will have a junior varsity team, coached by Lonnie Hughes, the boys varsity coach.
“I would like to see us just be as competitive as can be,” Guadagnino said. “I’d like to see the girls enjoy the experience and want to promote tennis in Riverhead even more. Hopefully it just continues to grow.”
Photo caption: Catherine Erb, Shoreham-Wading River’s All-County first singles player, is a sophomore in her fourth varsity season. (Credit: Bob Liepa, file)