School tennis: Mukerji stops Schmitz for Section II singles title (photo gallery)
SCHENECTADY Shaker’s Shannon Mukerji was unshakable.
After winning the first set, 6-3, and watching her 4-1 lead in the second set over top-seeded Claire Schmitz of Emma Willard erode into a 5-4 deficit, Mukerji settled down to win the final three games and capture the Section II Girls’ Tennis Singles Championship Wednesday at Sportime.
In a battle of unbeaten juniors, the second-seeded Mukerji showed off her versatile skills and complete arsenal with lob shots, overhead winners and laser-like ground strokes. She broke Schmitz’s serve five times, including the decisive 12th game of the second set.
Mukerji, Schmitz and Emma Willard’s Chassidy King, who won the third-place match, advanced to the state tournament Saturday at Tri-City Latham.
In the Section II doubles championship, a pair of Emma Willard teams squared off against each other, with Keishorea Armstrong and Miatali Das beating Kailin Bacechie and Samantha Blond, 6-3, 6-3, for the title. Third-place winners Alyssa Frost and Nisha Detchphrohm of Niskayuna will join them at states.
“I just tried to remain focused, and I didn’t worry about the score,” said Mukerji. “I tried to play one shot at a time. I knew Claire was a very good player and that I was in for a real battle. After she tied the score in the second set, I just thought about playing my own game.”
Mukerji, a Niskayuna native who has been on the Shaker squad since she was in seventh grade, has worked hard on her game over the last year, and just recently
began competing in USTA national events.
“I think the experience I had in the USTA matches really helped me. I went to a tournament in South Carolina for nationals back in September, and I really improved from what I had done before,” she said.
“I always play my hardest. Everyone has an off day once in a while, but you try to keep working hard. When Claire started to come back at me, I told myself not to panic.”
Shaker tennis coach Gerry Cuva said he wasn’t surprised by Mukerji’s poise.
“She’s got a very well-rounded game,” he said. “She’s got the slice shot, the lob and the hard volleys at the net. When you learn a diversified game like she has, it takes a while to learn it all, maybe six or seven years. She is so good at many facets of the game, and she is a very focused player.”
Cuva estimated that Shaker has won eight of the last 10 girls’ singles titles, including the last two. Shaker’s Cat Crummey was the champion a year ago.
Schmitz, who was born in Scotia and played for Scotia-Glenville in seventh and eighth grades before transferring to Emma Willard, was disappointed that she lost her first match of the season in the biggest match of the year.
“I made too many stupid mistakes,” she said. “I think I might have been a little nervous, but I did some things that I don’t
usually do. I didn’t have my best game today.”
Schmitz is part of one of the area’s strongest tennis families. Her grandfather, Robert, was a nationally ranked senior player and a member of the Eastern Tennis Association Hall of Fame, while her father, Tom, was a former
Scotia standout who later became a UAlbany Hall of Famer. He is still among the area’s top players.
“I was hoping to play better
today,” she said. “I haven’t played against Shannon in a long time, when we were both 12 years old.”
Finals: Shannon Mukerji (Shaker) def. Claire Schmitz (Emma Willard), 6-3, 7-5. Consolation: Chassidy King (Emma Willard) def. Nicole Kellogg (Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake), 6-4, 6-3.
Finals: Keishorea Armstrong-Miatali Das (Emma Willard) def. Kailin Baechie-Samantha Blond (Emma Willard), 6, 3, 6-3. Consolation: Alyssa Frost-Nisha Detchphrohm (Niskayuna) def. Nadia Suguitan-Kaitlyn Healy (Shenendehowa), 6-4, 6-1.