BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — With so many new names in each team’s lineup, the head coaches for the Niskayuna and Shenendehowa girls’ tennis teams went into Monday’s matchup looking for the same thing.
A win? Not really, thought it came as a bonus to the Plainsmen with a 5-4 decision.
Instead, what both Shenendehowa’s Bill MacArthur and Niskayuna’s Jim Neal wanted to see was their players adapt to their new roles on the young varsity season.
“I want to see them becoming better match players, see if they are learning what they can do on the tennis court to be successful, since everyone’s game is so different,” MacArthur explained.
“Just how they’re playing,” Neal agreed. “We’ll take that and we’ll build on it for the end of the season.”
Both squads entered the 2015 season with questions about their lineups. From a year ago, Niskayuna graduated Annie Phillips, the reigning Section II individual champion; meanwhile, Shenendehowa saw a class graduate with more than 10 players, many of whom had been a part of two sectional team titles for the Plainsmen during the past several years.
Both teams entered their match against one another off a 9-0 win, as Niskayuna had topped Albany and Shenendehowa beat Queensbury. Before that, Shenendehowa had participated in a tournament in Utica, but the teams mostly spent time in their first weeks together having their own players compete for lineup spots with constant intrasquad matchups.
“Our first week, we had double sessions all week,” Shenendehowa senior Elizabeth Sibson said. “From the second session on the first Monday, we played matches so we could figure it out.”
Sibson is on the Plainsmen’s No. 1 doubles team along with fellow senior Maddy Healy. The pair has played together the past few years, but the two girls had to compete with one another during the preseason before being connected again in a doubles team.
“It’s so hard in the beginning because you have to play your friends — Elizabeth and I actually had to play each other — but the first weeks have gone well, even though it’s an adjustment from last season,” said Healy, who paired with Sibson to score a 6-2, 7-5 win against Niskayuna.
Also scoring wins for Shenendehowa against Niskayuna were No. 4 singles player Amy Luo (7-6, 6-3); No. 5 singles player Holly Swimm (4-6, 6-1, 6-4), No. 6 singles player Aneesha Achar (7-6, 6-4); and, the No. 3 doubles team of Sadie Dunne and Grace Nicastro (6-4, 7-5).
For Niskayuna, wins came from No. 1 singles player Lesley Santos (7-5, 6-2); No. 2 singles player Christine Lee (6-4, 6-3); No. 3 singles player Val Luttman (6-4, 6-2); and, the No. 2 doubles team of Veronica Barczak and Ella Tang (6-3, 6-2).
The wide array of players competing in Monday’s match could be seen in the top two wins for Niskayuna; Santos is a senior, while Lee is a seventh-grader just starting out on her varsity career. Regardless of experience, though, each Niskayuna player headed directly to Neal after her match to get the coach’s report on the action.
“Coach won’t tell you that you did well if you didn’t,” Santos said. “He’ll give you pointers for the next time.”
That frank nature is what Santos said she likes most about Neal.
“He’s all about us having a strong mental game,” she said.
MacArthur also made sure to break down his players’ action with them after their matches, while keeping in mind the experience level of each player. On-court success is great, he said, but not the No. 1 goal for this season’s team.
“If their level of play is rising, I’m not going to worry about a record,” MacArthur said.