| By Brian Coleman
Photo credit: Brian Coleman

The Half Hollow Hills East Thunderbirds entered the 2015 Girls High School Playoffs as the fourth seed in Suffolk County, but played its best tennis when it mattered most, and ran the table in the playoffs, defeating second seed and undefeated Commack 5-2 in the County Final.

It was singles play that led the way for the Thunderbirds, as it took three of the four singles courts on its way to the victory, highlighted by Stephanie Chikvashvili’s victory at first singles over Commack’s Kimberly Liao.

The two met for the fifth time this season, and once again, played an incredibly competitive match that had each spectator fixated.

Liao, who defeated Chikvashvili in the Suffolk County Individual Championship, was on her game early, racing out to a 5-2 lead before eventually closing out the opening set 6-4.

But Liao, who was battling an illness all week, took a medical break after Chikvashvili jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second set. The Hills East junior seized momentum, and rattled off the final two sets for the 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory. 

“Stephanie’s win over Kim was well-deserved,” said Hills East Head Coach Tom Depelteau. “Her prior losses to her were very close, and I believe this result confirms that the two of them will be factors in the upcoming state tournament.”

The doubles team of Alexis Huber & Gina LaRusso from Hills East, who finished fourth in the Individual County Tournament, knocked off the duo of Shelly Gupta & Alexa Corben at first doubles. After Hills East got a win from Ariana Malik over Commack’s Emma Matz at third singles, the Thunderbirds were one victory away from the 2015 Suffolk County Title.

That win would come from the fourth singles court, as Brynn April defeated Dara Danzinger 6-2, 6-3 to clinch the victory.

“I am very proud of my team,” said Depelteau. “One strength of the team is that each competed for their teammates and not just for themselves. It was important to each that they make a contribution to the whole.”

It was a remarkable playoff run for Hills East, who beat previously undefeated and top-seeded Floyd on Floyd’s home courts in the semifinals, and then knocked off the previously unbeaten and second-seeded Commack in the finals.

“While Commack beat us twice during the season, we felt all along that we only needed one more chance to turn the tables,” added Depelteau. “William Floyd was more of an unknown quantity. We had no common opponent and knew very little of their strengths.”

Hills East finishes the season at 14-2, with the only two losses coming to Commack in the regular season, and concluded the year on a six-match winning streak.

“At the outset of the season, we held modest expectations,” said Depelteau. “As we progressed, the doubles team’s chemistry grew and the quality of their play and that of our singles girls improved. Although we suffered those two losses to Commack, our expectations grew. The outcome is all the more sweet as a result of those modest expectations.” 

Credit all photos to Brian Coleman

Stephanie Chikvashvili of Hills East was victorious at first singles over Commack’s Kimberly Liao


Suffolk County Individual Champion Kimberly Liao of Commack

Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com