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Half Hollow Hills wins Suffolk boys, girls badminton titles
The top-seeded Half Hollow Hills boys and girls badminton teams both won Suffolk County Championships on Tuesday, marking the first time that the same team has won both titles. The girls (16-0) defeated No. 2 Smithtown West, 7-2, while the boys (14-2) won a close match against No. 2 Smithtown East, 5-4.
For the girls, it’s their fourth straight county championship and they have now won 61 straight matches dating back to 2010. Susan Zhang defeated Danielle Enerson 11-2, 11-3 at third singles. Divya Rao and Monica Chen defeated Angelique Lambardi and Leanna Thalman 15-7, 15-7 at second doubles to finish the year undefeated. Gina Augusta and Carly Cordano won 15-8, 15-6 at first doubles to also finish the year undefeated. Sophomore Liana He won 11-0, 11-0 at fifth singles to finish the year undefeated while splitting time between fourth and fifth singles in her first year on the team.
Hills has not lost a match during the tenures of seniors Zhang, Augusta, Christie LoMonaco and Jessica Scheingold.
“They’re a great group of kids,” said coach Lisa Albert, who coaches both teams. “They’re all very bright and I’ll miss them very much. They’re great leaders, they lead by example and they make it fun for everybody. It’s been a privilege to coach them.”
For the boys, it’s their first county title since 2009. Senior captain James Kuo made a comeback to defeated Ken Barthman in the deciding first singles match, winning 10-15, 15-10, 15-7.
“All the other matches were finished in the gym, so everyone was focused on James,” Albert said. “It was a lot of pressure, but he definitely withstood the test. I’m very happy that it was him who had it in his hands, he was very dedicated to the team and he’s been a great captain.”
Ryan Sandy and Kris Pang defeated Ryan Duffy and Justin Morello 15-6, 15-6 at fourth doubles. Junior captain Alfred Shim won 15-11, 15-3 at second singles.
With the girls team seeing so much success over the past four years, Albert said the boys team was motivated to win a title of their own.
“It was absolutely motivation for the boys, they wanted to do it too,” she said. “They knew we had a couple championships from before, and they wanted that back so they worked hard to get here.”
For Albert, this caps a special year.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I have a lot of kids who’ve been dedicated to badminton for three or four years. It’s amazing how they pull each other together to be able to win these matches. Their work ethic is great, I’m really proud of them.”
Albert said that the teams share a special camaraderie that was instrumental to this year’s success.
“They practice with and against each other everyday,” she said. “They make each other better. Our girls doubles teams trained the boys doubles teams and our boys singles teams trained the girls singles teams. We’ve got a high level of experience.”
Albert said she always knew the girls could reach this level, but the boys started showing signs of greatness at the end of the regular season.
“I didn’t think anybody can touch the girls because they kept getting better and better all year long, and they were already great,” she said. “For the boys, they defeated Miller Place and Smithtown East in the last two matches of the year after losing to both teams earlier in the season. For them it all came together in the end.”
She added: “It’s been an absolutely incredible journey, I’m just so happy that it ended this way.”