Voorheesville tennis struggling against top competition

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Big hit: Seventh-grader Lilyanna Rinaldi, Voorheesville’s number-two tennis player, follows through with a backhand shot during a match against Albany Academy last Friday. Rinaldi lost her match, 0-6, 0-6; the four singles’ players for the Blackbirds couldn’t win a game.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

The Voorheesville tennis team is having a challenging 2013 season; no singles or doubles players have yet won a match. Here, sophomore Olivia Suozzo, who plays as the number-one seed, swings her racket last Friday in Voorheesville. The Birds hosted Albany Academy, one of the better teams in Section 2.

VOORHEESVILLE — Tom Kurkjian has coached tennis at Voorheesville for 39 years, so he’s witnessed his share of the sport. Last Friday, the girls’ players from Voorheesville couldn’t win any games from Albany Academy, and Kurkjian couldn’t help but think that this Albany Academy team was one of the strongest opponents he’s ever seen.

All four Voorheesville singles’ players — Olivia Suozzo, Lilyanna Rinaldi, Morgan Zell, and Phoebe Siegel — lost their matches, 0-6, and 0-6; the doubles team of Victoria Konicki and Jasmine Weist also lost by the same dismal score.

“It’s like a minor league team playing the New York Yankees,” Kurkjian said. “Albany Academy is so deep, and so strong. They’re routinely playing in the sectional finals, and they’re a favorite again this year.”

The players for Voorheesville are relatively new to tennis; Rinaldi and Konicki are in seventh grade, and two seniors, Erin Kelly and Lexi Pelletier, weren’t at last Friday’s match. The Blackbirds hadn’t won even a single match this season until Konicki and Weist beat a doubles’ team from Holy Names on Monday.

Kurkjian told The Enterprise that the Colonial Council is loaded with talent this year, which has made for some tough slugging.

“I’m kind of shocked that none of my players have won a match,” Kurkjian said last Friday, “but I’m not shocked about the team losing. We’re not nearly as experienced as some of these other teams.”

Playing for Albany Academy last Friday were Mia Dicaprio and Taylor West, two of the best players Kurkjian has seen this season. Voorheesville plays Albany Academy, Emma Willard, and Holy Names — private schools that perpetually have tennis talent — every year.

“It’s a challenge, but I love to play, so it’s not terrible to lose,” said Rinaldi, who has impressive racket speed for her age. After Albany Academy players and the rest of the Voorheesville team had left, Rinaldi and Suozzo stayed late to work on their games, hitting the ball back and forth.

“I try to get Lily [Rinaldi] into her happy place,” Suozzo said. “It can be disheartening to never win a match, but I’m always looking forward to the next one.”

Suozzo says that some Colonial Council opponents are just too good to beat. “I love tennis though, so I want to keep getting better,” she said. “I still have a few more years here; I’m applying my power.”

Voorheesville won six sectional titles between 2003 and 2011, and also finished as a runner-up twice. During that run, the Birds had plenty of senior experience, but that hasn’t been the case over the last few years.

“We’re doing the best we can, and hopefully everyone is motivated to move forward,” Kurkjian said. “Every player is different, but each one should be able to grow.”

For both Rinaldi and Suozzo, tennis is a family affair.

Rinaldi’s father, Peter, plays recreational tennis at a national level. Suozzo’s mother, Stephanie, once met Billy Jean King because King liked the way she hit a slice shot during World Team Tennis, which was started by King.

“It’s something about exercise,” Olivia Suozzo said of her love for tennis. “Those endorphins…”

In all his decades of coaching at Voorheesville, Kurkjian has used tennis as the platform, but he tries to bring in other life experiences, the world at large.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve coached with more of a philosophy; tennis is part of life,” he said. “It can be a lot of different things, and I’ve never felt stale about the game…even if we’re losing.”