When an opponent steps on the court against the Half Hollow Hills East girls tennis team, it never knows what to expect.
The Thunderbirds have a team full of versatile players that can step into any spot in the lineup on any given day. It’s a formula that has worked for Half Hollow Hills East during a season in which many things have been different.
"This is my first year coaching the girls but I’ve coached the boys for a few years and this is the deepest team I’ve ever had," Steve Ferrantello said. "We've had nine matches and nine different lineups."
And nine wins, after host Hills East defeated Half Hollow Hills West, 6-1, Friday in Suffolk I.
The win clinched the League I title for the Thunderbirds.
"I think that our team has really good chemistry," Janelle Chen said. "Being able to switch up the lineups and surprise other teams with our dynamic is a big factor in our success."
Chen and Ashna Shetty defeated Sydney Levinton and Jenna Barot, 6-0, 6-0, at first doubles as Hills East swept all three doubles matches.
But Chen is not just a doubles player, having also played first singles this year.
"Coach has been really good about training us and giving us a lot of practice with both doubles and singles," Chen said. "I think we’ve been very prepared."
Chen returned to the Hills East team after a year away and has quickly settled in as a leader and a team captain.
"I’ve been playing tennis and competing for 11 years and there’s nothing like playing on a team," she said. "Tennis is a very individual sport and being on a team brings a whole different aspect."
Molly Malaby and Maggie Wang won, 6-0, 6-0, at second doubles and Rachel Neuman and Amina Rizvon won, 6-0, 6-0, at third doubles.
"Having a team so balanced as ours has its perks," Malaby said. "The opportunity to spread out our lineup and play opponents we normally wouldn’t only helps better our game,"
Unfortunately for Hills East there will be no team championship tournament this year because of the compact season that was switched from the fall because of the pandemic. It would have been the Thunderbirds' best chance at a Suffolk title since reaching the final in 2017.
"It's a little bit of a disappointment," Ferrantello said. "I truly feel we would have gone deep and could have won. It's a shame but it's great we're even playing with everything going on. This is an added bonus that we're doing so well."