After its best season in program history, finishing with an undefeated record in League VIII last year, the Eastport South Manor girls tennis team will now battle teams in League VII this year, which should prove to be much more competitive.
The Lady Sharks will have to face off against William Floyd, Mercy, Westhampton Beach, East Hampton and Ross in league play, the latter of which looks to be the top team heading into the season. Coupled with the fact that ESM has moved up a league, it also lost a number of players to graduation last year.
Kaitlyn Mead and Julia Jurgielewicz were two four-year varsity players that have since moved on with Nikki Robinson, Ally Gullo and Jamie Levien. Loriann Bobins has moved out of the state to North Carolina and Rachel Ragone, who was an integral part to the team the past few seasons, will miss her senior season due to treatment she is undergoing for Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer that forms in the bone or soft tissue. Ragone’s cancer, which she was diagnosed with earlier this year, is on her right, racquet arm.
ESM head coach Sharon Klune said while Ragone cannot play during her treatment this season, she will attend matches and practices when she can just be with the team.
“We’re really playing for Rachel this season,” she said. “Our motto this year is ‘Love For Rachel.’ A lot of their heart went through Rachel and a lot of the girls have been doing a lot of fundraising for her. Her prognosis is very positive but she’s been going through some intense radiation and chemotherapy. So the girls cut their hair for Locks of Love for her and they’ve actually raised enough money to get an actual human-hair wig. They’ve donated blood many times and all of this has really been on their own.”
While ESM will surely miss some of its players this season, it does have its top player in eighth-grader Jackie Bukzin returning. Bukzin earned All-State status last season when she finished fourth in the county tournament. As a fourth-place finisher at counties, players are only alternates to reach the state tournament, so Bukzin is eyeing a top-three finish at counties this year to make the trip upstate.
Joining Bukzin in the starting lineup is junior Victoria Chan, who will be playing at second singles. Sophomore Cassie Rivera will play at third singles while fourth singles is still up in the air, according to Klune. There are currently four players vying for the final singles spot.
Senior Vanessa Amendola will be playing first doubles with sophomore Laura Kesnig while senior Emily Ceriola will be playing second doubles with junior Jackie Cutler, a callup from the junior varsity. Junior Sarah Jurgielewicz will pair up with JV-callup Nicole Horn, a sophomore, at third doubles.
The tennis program at Hampton Bays got a little bit of a shake-up when head coach Rodney Way decided to step down after seven years coaching the boys and six years with the girls. Now leading both the boys and girls tennis programs will be Nathan Gaudreau.
Gaudreau is new to the Hampton Bays district but is no stranger to tennis. He owns The Racquet Koupe on Main Street in Westhampton Beach and has been thoroughly involved in the sport for quite some time.
Gaudreau, a native of East Hartford, Connecticut, played collegiate tennis at Central Connecticut State and eventually became a United States Tennis Association teaching professional. He coached the boys tennis team for four years at Xavier High School in Middletown, Connecticut, and then coached the girls tennis team for two years at Glastonbury High School in Glastonbury, Connecticut.
The Lady Baymen lost one of their top players in Davie Romer to graduation, but Gaudreau is not worried about what’s happened in the past with his new team. He’s focused on getting the best out of his players through competition in practice.
“Constant competition,” he said. “If they’re competing hard every day in practice they should take that mentality with them in an actual match.”
Leading the team, tentatively, at first singles will be senior Stephanie Blanco. Sophomore Magdalena Wrobel will take over at second singles and freshman Ivana Ocampos, who just moved into the district, will play at third singles. Erin Tully, a junior, will play at fourth singles.
Gaudreau said he hasn’t penciled in a doubles lineup yet, but he’s choosing from a list of senior Kassandra Phillips, juniors Christine Dubrowski and Olivia Terry, sophomores Gabriella Lobob, Emily Veeck and Amanda Mauridio and freshman Victoria Nicolova. Phillips and Blanco are the team captains.
Hampton Bays will be playing this season in League VIII, which includes Center Moriches, Mattituck, Shoreham/Wading River, Southampton and Southold/Greenport. Gaudreau didn’t want to make any predictions for his team.
“We’re taking it one day at a time, which is the best way to look at it,” he said. “This is all new to me. We have a much smaller team than we had last year. I want to make sure they’re having fun and I just want them to do the best they can.”