| By Brian Coleman

The Half Hollow Hills East Thunderbirds will begin their Suffolk County playoff campaign this afternoon when it hosts Connetquot in the Round of 16.

It has been another banner season for the Hills East boys tennis team following a tough loss to cross-town rival Half Hollow Hills West in last year’s county championship. The Thunderbirds lost a number of players from that team to graduation, so the outlook on 2016 heading into this season was a bit fuzzy.

“Expectations were rather modest,” said Hills East head coach Tom Depelteau. “First, second and third singles and two very good doubles players from last year had graduated. We did return our fourth singles player, Abhinav Srivastava, who had worked very hard on his game in the offseason.”

Srivastava, a sophomore, stepped into the first singles role and has been outstanding for the Thunderbirds this season, a main component in the team’s success.

“He became a most reliable number one player and provided stability and success at the top of our order,” added Depelteau. “Our depth was never in question so we were able to construct very competitive doubles pairings.”

Hills East has two doubles tandems who will be competing in this weekend’s county individual tournament. Adam Wilck and Justin Dubler finished second in the Division 1 Tournament and Tyler London and Sandy Greenberg finished fourth, both qualifying for counties.

In addition to Dubler, there are two other seniors in Brian Rhee and Bradley Weltmam who provide the leadership and experience that permeates through the rest of the team. In fact, the Thunderbirds never discussed losing to Hills West in the last year’s county final, it just picked up the pieces and turned its focus to this season.

And that has paid off. Hills East won all 14 of its matches during the spring regular season, 10 of which came by either a 7-0 or 6-1 scoreline.

The sustained success of the school’s programs can be traced to the tennis culture that exists in the Dix Hills community.

“The community has developed a tennis culture. The kids, both boys and girls, aspire to be a part of the high school teams,” said Depelteau. “The competition for the roster spots is keen. I have been told on numerous occasions that they are more nervous during the tryouts than playing in the team finals.”

Hills East enters this week’s county tournament as the favorite, but the Thunderbirds know they will have to play consistently good tennis if it wants to reclaim the Suffolk crown.

“Heading into the tournament we are cautiously optimistic,” said Depelteau. “We know that there are other teams that are competitive, so, although confident, we are nonetheless expecting to have to play well to succeed.”

Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com