| By Long Island Tennis Magazine Staff

It has been a few years since the last Long Island tennis championship, and while Tuesday’s match between Friends Academy and Commack wasn’t an official Long Island championship, it certainly had that feel.

The Quakers of Friends Academy won the inaugural Long Island High School Tennis Executive Cup sponsored by USTA Long Island, defeating Commack 5-2 at John Burns Park in Massapequa on a brisk fall afternoon.

Calista Sha notched the first win for Friends, knocking off Commack’s Emily Tannenbaum 6-3, 6-0 at second singles to put the Quakers on the board.

“I just had to stay focused,” Sha said of her win. “In the beginning it was kind of cold so it took a while to warm up, but just had to keep moving.

I think it’s really cool that we get to play this championship. We usually don’t play teams from Suffolk so it’s good to be able to play new players and see different competition. I think it’s something we should do every year.”

Calista Sha returns a backhand during her second singles victory over Emily Tannenbaum. 

Commack would respond with a victory at third doubles, as Christine Kong and Victoria Densien knocked off Elisabeth Quick and Kelsey Nathan 6-0, 6-1 to bring the Cougars even at one-match all.

The two squads would trade wins again, as Friends would take the first doubles contest, a 6-2, 6-3 win by Marina Hilbort and Grace Riviezzo over Emma Matz and Julia Kinalis, and Commack once again evened the score as Gabi Glickstein defeated Morgan Wilkins 6-2, 7-5 at third singles.

So as Claire Handa and Kimberly Liao were locked in a tight battle in a third set on the first singles court, Friends would get their third victory as Gabby Bloom and Jackie Walzer held on to beat Andrianna Kainis and Emma Mangels 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 at second doubles to bring Griends within one win of the title.

In the third set of that Handa-Liao match, both players were broken in their opening service games, but the set remained on serve until 3-2, when a backhand long from Liao gave Handa the decisive break for 4-2.

Friends' senior Claire Handa won the clinching match over Commack's Kimberly Liao. 

The Friends’ senior would consolidate that break with a hold, and two games later, she served for the championship, clinching the Friends’ victory on her first match point for the 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 comeback win.

“It was definitely tough,” Handa said of the conditions. “We’re all struggling to breathe out here and can barely feel our hands. But we made sure we got here really early today so we could warm up a lot before the matches. In the first set she was dominating all the points, pushing me from side to side and I was struggling with my movement.

So [my coach] Gino [Uterano] came over after the first set and told me ‘if you’re going to lose, you might as well hit. So I just tried to hit every ball and keep her moving on every point, and that really made a difference.”

For first-year Friends head coach Gino Uterano, he knew he had something special with this team in the beginning of the season and was proud of the way his team continued to improve throughout the year.

“I knew that we had a really good team going into the season, but I didn’t know just how good they could be,” said Uterano. “Once we got things lined up and figured out everybody’s role, they just took off. We had a good start to the season, had a few bumps in the road, but that’s to be expected. They got better as the season progressed and once we hit the playoffs the team really peaked. They beat three really good teams in the Nassau playoffs, and then an excellent Commack team today.”