As the Long Beach girls' tennis team fought for a playoff spot last autumn, fear of the jinx made any discussion of postseason action taboo among players. The tennis gods were unmoved, however, as the Lady Marines would finish 12-2, one win shy of qualifying for playoffs.
Having no use for superstition this season, the Long Beach squad disdained the fates by openly noting its high ambitions all throughout a memorable campaign, trusting technique while playing loose as it seized the Nassau Conference III-B crown unbeaten at 14-0.
"The girls were different this year," said Long Beach coach Tony Stricklin, whose club collected its first conference title since 2002. "Even though I deemphasize winning and try to just focus on effort, they would talk about winning the conference, and wanting to go undefeated. They weren’t afraid; they were having fun. We worked so hard on mastering technique, they got to where they had faith in themselves and let go. And these girls were tenacious.”
Anastesia Menshikova went 12-2 for the Lady Marines at first singles, turning in a virtual replay of last season’s All-Conference effort, while fellow senior Alexa Coffin finished 9-5 in the second court.
“Anastesia has it all, no flaws in her game, and tremendous tenacity,” Stricklin said. “She made my job easier by being a role model; I could point to someone the same age as all the girls and say, ‘Look. That’s how you do it.’ Alexa Coffin changed the culture of this team with her work ethic. By coming in early and staying late, and showing that it can pay off, she got the other girls to allow themselves to be coached. I’ve watched her as a player get better every year.”
Senior Jamie Alegria was again dominant in her third season at first doubles, going 12-1 for the second straight year, this time partnering with sophomore Tyler Collinson. “Jamie’s like that unsung hero,” Stricklin said. “She doesn’t do a lot of talking, but she just kind of quietly keeps winning. At a certain point this season, it just sort of came to me that she’s been on the first court now three years, winning a lot of matches.”
According to Stricklin, who hitherto had not helmed an undefeated squad in 35 years coaching various varsity sports, the season validated his belief in the primacy of proper technique – a concept he credits his squad with buying in to, which required not a little faith.
“The physics of a proper tennis swing and the flight of the ball seem to not make sense,” said Stricklin, whose club fell to Roslyn in the first round of the Nassau playoffs to finish 14-1. “It’s hard for a lot of players to drop bad habits and get out of comfort zones. But once you get it right and start believing in the technique, everything follows. You can let go and play without fear. This team did a great job with that. It’s an incredible group of girls.”