Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Double trouble for Emma Willard & Shaker at Section II tennis tournament

Shaker High School's Shannon Mukerji (foreground) and Catherine Jenkins (background) take the court in the Section II individual girls tennis tournament's opening round Tuesday morning at Schenectady's Central Park. (Photos by Mike McMahon - The Record).

SCHENECTADY -- For the Emma Willard School’s Mitali Das and Molly Goodman, along with Shaker’s Catherine Jenkins and Shannon Mukerji, the Section II girls tennis tournament is doubly challenging. Not only are they going up against the best talent in the area, they’re playing doubles for the first time this season.

Those four players are some of the best singles players in the area during the regular season, but when the season-ending individual tournament rolls around, their coaches have decided to pair them up as doubles teams.

"Jerry (Cuva, Shaker head coach) kind of told us ‘you guys are playing together’ and we were like, cool!" said Jenkins, pictured at left. "There really is no planning to it."

"Yesterday was the first time we played together," said Mukerji, pictured at right.

"So we’re just trying it out," Jenkins continued. "And we work pretty well together."

Jenkins and Mukerji entered the start of Tuesday’s individual competition as the No. 2 seed behind the Emma Willard duo of Das and Goodman, who also were joined together as a doubles team just for this tournament.

"Me and Mitali are friends, so that worked out nicely," said Goodman, a junior and a native of Schenectady, pictured below right. "Doubles is almost a completely different game than singles, so you almost have to like get used to different dynamics and different strategies."

Das, at left, a sophomore this year, and her older sister, Shibani, placed second in the doubles tournament in 2009.
Both teams certainly worked together well Tuesday, as they won first and second round matches by perfect 8-0 scores.

Mukerji, Goodman and Das stated that they were in part introduced to the sport by older sisters who had helped teach them about the game.

"I started beating her this summer," Mukerji laughed. "Before that, she would always crush me. We’re close."

Jenkins, who had attended the Albany Academy for Girls before transferring to Shaker as a freshman, saw tennis as a natural extension of her love for squash.

"I started playing when I was a younger kid, but when I came to Shaker, it was a new school and I wanted to be able to make friends pretty quickly so I decided to play tennis seriously," she said. "I’ve been playing squash since I was about six or seven years old, so that’s how I got started playing tennis."

These doubles teams may be on a collision course for the Section II individual championship match, but they may meet again as singles after that. Shaker has already advanced to the Section II Class AA team title match, but the semifinal between Shenendehowa and Emma Willard was postponed by rain last Thursday and will be made up sometime in the near future, depending on how the weather determines the outcome of the individual tournament. Play was briefly suspended early Tuesday morning after drizzle on the cold courts caused a slippery and unsafe surface.

Despite their lack of experience playing together, the Shaker duo is hoping to follow the long tradition of success the Blue Bison have had in singles competition.

"Our team is really competitive, so everyone trains really hard over the summer to try to get a good spot on the team," said Jenkins. "You know everyone else on your team is a really confident player, so you don’t feel any pressure during matches to win."

"You know everyone is working hard, so you want to work harder to stay above. We push each other," Mukerji said.

Shaker High freshman Shannon Mukerji lines up a shot during play in the opening round of the Section II girls tennis tournament Tuesday at Schenectady's Central Park. (McMahon photo).

Section II Singles Tournament

The top two singles seeds in the 2010 tournament are also from Shaker and Emma Willard.

Shaker’s Cat Crummey, the defending Section II individual champion, is the No. 1 seed. Emma Willard’s Claire Schmitz, who finished No. 3 in the tournament a season ago, is the No. 2 seed.

Crummey won a pair of 8-0 matches Tuesday. Schmitz won her first match 8-1, followed by an 8-0 second round victory.

The top three singles players and the top three doubles teams advance to the New York State Tournament, which begins Nov. 6 at Eastside Racquet Club in Manlius.

Shaker has won 12 Section II singles titles since 1991, with players such as Kristen Odabashian, Amanda O’Hearn, Sarah Mayer and Jasleen Sandhu carrying the torch before Crummey.

And with a pair of doubles teams in the field, the Blue Bison are hoping for a Section II title sweep in 2010.

"Your objective is to get your players to the state championship," Cuva said. "That’s how you have a better shot. I have my No. 2 and 3 players and my No. 4 and 5 playing together as doubles."

Section II doubles and singles quarterfinal action continues today at Central Park beginning at 3 p.m. The semifinals and finals will be played Monday and Tuesday at Sportime in Schenectady.

Emma Willard School sophomore Mitali Das follows through on a shot during doubles play in the Section II girls tennis tournament Tuesday at Schenectady's Central Park. (McMahon photo - The Record).

Members of the Catholic Central High School tennis team, from left to right, Molly Scanlon, Taylor Murphy and Taylor Adams, bundle up against the cold Tuesday morning. A brief drizzle caused play to be suspended around 10:15 a.m. (McMahon photo - The Record).

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