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Hills East, Stefanie Alpert cap improved season with playoff berth

Half Hollow Hills East senior Stefanie Alpert. (Oct.

Half Hollow Hills East senior Stefanie Alpert. (Oct. 23, 2013) (Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy)

The year-by-year improvement for the Half Hollow Hills East volleyball team has mirrored the rise of its best player, senior Stefanie Alpert.

Beginning with a 5-8 mark as a freshman, a 1-13 record in 2011 and a near playoff berth in Alpert’s junior year in 2012, the Thunderbirds have been striving for a spot in the county playoffs.

A 7-5 league mark made 2013 the year.

“I can t even explain the change, it’s so big,” Alpert said about the improvements in her own game, but that also apply to the team. “I watch videos from my freshman year and now, and I’m literally a completely different player.”

Alpert, a senior outside hitter is the linchpin for a Hills East team that strives to play aggressive. “I always say, ‘Hit to kill,” head coach Lauren Weber said.

And Alpert has certainly become proficient in killing the ball. Whether it’s the 13 kills she recorded in Hills East's playoff clinching win over Whitman, the 25 kills she racked up when the Thunderbirds knocked off 2012 county finalist Lindenhurst on the road or the 18 kills she accumulated as Hills East came from behind 2-0 to beat Long Island champion Ward Melville, one thing is certain – Alpert and Hills East finally arrived as League II competitors.

Alpert didn’t always envision herself as the leader of the Hills East volleyball team. She also played soccer up until eighth grade when she joined the volleyball team and began playing for Weber, who suggested she try out for a club team.

She made it – “I’m pretty sure it was only because I was tall,” she said – and improved to the point that she was a member of the United States Junior team that played in the Maccabiah Games in Israel over the summer.

“It was really cool to not only meet people from all over the county but to meet people from all of the other countries,” Alpert said. “I met some of the girls on the junior national Israeli team and it was cool to see how they live together and they have three practices a day and how different that is from here where most kids go to normal high school.”

She used that experience to improve her leadership abilities for this high school season.

“I played on a team with girls I never met before and trying to figure out what my spot on that team kind of gave me the confidence to be a good leader on a team where I know everyone,” she said.

From a seventh grader, who in her own words, “wasn’t very good – I was a little bit of an awkward child,” to one of the top outside hitters on Long Island, its no surprise that Alpert and Hills East ascension has coincided.

“I worked really hard and I’ve been making big strides every year,” she said. “And now, I am where I am.”