Kimberly Liao of Commack returns a shot from Emily Tannenbaum...

Kimberly Liao of Commack returns a shot from Emily Tannenbaum (not pictured), also of Commack, during the Suffolk girls tennis Division I singles final at Half Hollow Hills West High School on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. Credit: James Escher

Commack’s Kimberly Liao is back and playing better than ever.

The top seeded Cougar took the first step toward getting back to the state tournament when she defeated teammate and No. 3 seed Emily Tannenbaum, 6-2, 6-1 in the final of the Suffolk Division I girls tennis tournament Tuesday at Half Hollow Hills West.

Liao, a freshman and the defending Suffolk County champion, improved her season record to 16-0.

“I’ve worked really hard on my game overall and to be more aggressive,” Liao said. “I think my serve and groundstrokes are a lot better and I’ve improved my game overall.”

Liao made a run to the state quarterfinals last year before falling, 6-3, 6-3, to eventual fourth-place finisher Julia Andreach of Our Lady of Mercy (Rochester).

“There are a lot of good teams and players out there but Kimberly is hungry for the competition and looking forward to the challenge,” Commack coach Jackie Clark said.

Liao moves on to the County tournament this weekend at Suffolk CC where she will defend her title.

“I’m more confident and I know what I can and have to do,” Liao said. “It really helps that I’ve been through all of it before.”

Like Liao, Smithtown East senior Olivia Faulhaber is looking to leave another mark in the state tournament.

Faulhaber, a Smithtown East senior, and Hailey Stoerback, a seventh grader, defeated No. 2 Ariana Malkin and Lauren Cherkin od Hills East, 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the doubles final.

Faulhaber, who was all-state as an eighth, ninth and 11th grader, according to coach Jim Schiraldi, has taken over a leadership role with Stoerback. Schiraldi recalled Faulhaber being mentored by a senior when she was the only seventh grader on the team.

“She was extremely happy to help Hailey out because she’s the only one who really understands what she’s going through,” Schiraldi said.

Stoerback and entered the tournament at the No. 4 seed.

“She’s super motivated and understands exactly what she needs to do now that she’s been there,” Schiraldi said. “She’s passionate about getting back and moving on even further than last year.”

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