When the Nassau County Individual Singles draw came out, top-seeded Merri Kelly Hannity of Cold Spring Harbor and second-seeded Courtney Kowalsky of Oyster Bay were on opposite sides and never thought they would play against one another.
“It was hard but it was fun at the same time,” Hannity said of playing Kowalsky. “We talked about playing each other when the draw first came out and said ‘Thank God we’re on the opposite side.’”
But the two best friends, who had never played one another, both came through their respective draws to meet in Sunday’s singles final, and it was the freshman Hannity who got the better of the matchup, outlasting Kowalsky 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 to win the 2016 Nassau County Singles Championship at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, N.Y.
“Her game is tighter and mentally she’s tougher,” said Cold Spring Harbor Melissa McLees. “She’s a ninth-grader playing a senior who is her best friend, and to be able to cut that out, and focus and concentrate on the task at hand was unbelievable.”
Hannity quickly turned her focus to the match, snatching the first break for a 3-1 lead in the opening set. Kowalsky would get that break back to trim the first set deficit to 3-4, but Hannity responded right back with a break, and served out the opener in the ensuing game.
Kowalsky, a two-time New York State doubles champion, would not go quietly though, and came out firing in the second set. She broke for a 3-1 lead and again for a 5-1 lead, winning five straight games from 1-1 to win the second and force a deciding third set.
Hannity demonstrated that mental toughness which has taken her game to the next level this year, rebounding from a tough second set to open up a commanding 4-0 lead in the third set. Kowalsky would trim the lead to make things close, but Hannity was able to serve out the match at 5-4, closing out her title victory after a Kowalsky forehand sailed wide.
“We grew up together, play tennis all the time. We pretty much learned tennis together,” said Kowalsky of her relationship with Hannity. “We’re more like sisters than friends. I tried my best to put that aside; it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in tennis.”
Hannity and Kowalsky will represent Nassau County in the New York State Championships which begin Oct. 29, along with Great Neck North’s Amy Delman, who was a 6-4, 6-1 winner over New Hyde Park’s Steffi Antao in the third-place match.
In the doubles final, Morgan Wilkins & Calista Sha of Friends Academy were crowned 2016 County Champions after defeating North Shore’s Olivia Scordo & Lucia Hu 6-2, 6-4 on Sunday.
“It feels really good,” Wilkins said of being a county champion. “This is the first time we played together in counties. And playing together was a last minute decision, and a few matches into the tournament we realized we were pretty good together.”
Wilkins & Sha, both normally singles player, translated their singles skills to the doubles court.
“I think we just tried to mix it up,” Sha said of their strategy. “We started playing two back at the baseline and it worked, so we stuck with it.”
Joining the Friends’ duo in the state tournament will be Manhasset’s Kyleigh Harmon & Maddie Clinton, who hung on to beat Syosset’s Risha Maholtra & Marissa Levine 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-0 in the third-place match.
Credit all photos to Brian Coleman
Calista Sha of Friends Academy teamed with Morgan Wilkins to capture the 2016 Nassau County Doubles Championship
Courtney Kowalsky of Oyster Bay in the 2016 Girls Singles Finals at Eisenhower Park
Manhasset’s Kyleigh Harmon (right) & Maddie Clinton (at net) are headed to the 2016 New York State Championship
Great Neck North’s Amy Delman finished in third place and is headed to the NY State Championships
Runner-up Courtney Kowalsky of Oyster Bay with 2016 Nassau County Singles Champion Merri Kelly Hannity of Cold Spring Harbor
North Shore’s Lucia Hu & Olivia Scordo, Friends Academy's Calista Sha & Morgan Wilkins, and Manhasset’s Maddie Clinton & Kyleigh Harmon are all headed to the NYS Championship
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.