Zain Ali wins Suffolk title as Hills East dominates
The Suffolk boys tennis individual championships could be summed up in three words: Hills East sweep.
The Suffolk powerhouse produced both the singles champion, Zain Ali, and the doubles champions, Kyle Alper and Jeff Cherkin, and had the second- and third-place doubles teams Tuesday at Smithtown East. Hills East qualified seven of the county's nine representatives for the state championships.
That will be the most any Suffolk school has sent to the state championships in a single season, according to Half Hollow Hills East coach Tom Depelteau.
"We made history,'' said Depelteau, who is coaching in his 28th season. "I'm incredibly proud.''
In singles, Ali, a junior, earned his fourth trip to states but his first county title, beating a familiar foe in Whitman's Brandon Stone, 6-3, 6-2.
In what was their fourth meeting of the season, Ali broke to go ahead 3-1 in the first set and then held a critical fifth game by surviving consecutive long rallies in which he moved Stone along the baseline to win both points and go ahead 4-1. In the second set he broke Stone twice and ultimately never dropped a service game in the match.
"I was serving really well. I don't think I could have won without my serve,'' Ali said. "Whenever I play someone I try to move them around more than they can move me. I try to be aggressive, I try to be the one who dictates the point and I was able to do that.''
Ali lost in the county semifinals in each of the last three seasons but came back to win the third-place match to qualify for states each time. This season he beat Westhampton's Cooper Lacetera, 6-2, 7-5, in the semis to seal up his state bid and reach the singles final.
"Ever since eighth grade I've been so close, but today I was able to win what I always wanted so I'm just so happy,'' Ali said. "I was more nervous in the semifinals because that's the match I had never won, but in the finals I had beaten [Stone] the last two times we played so I was confident and playing well. So there was nothing to be nervous about.''
Alper and Cherkin beat teammates Travis Leaf and Ross Reiffman in the doubles final, 6-1, 6-0, becoming the first duo to win consecutive county titles in at least 20 years, according to Depelteau.
"It's a privilege just to be out here and play well and to have the consistency to do it two years in a row is pretty special,'' Alper said.
Sayville's Tyler Hoffman beat Lacetera, 6-3, 6-1, to take the third singles slot, and Michael Leffler and Roger Cheng completed the Hills East sweep at doubles with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Islip's Dan Sliwowski and Connor Jeran.
"As a team it's so cool that we have the most people here and that our team has been so successful,'' Alper said. "Everyone feeds off each other's positive energy and it's really great.''