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Breakthrough year for VSS tennis

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Back in the tennis coaching routine for the first time since guiding the Valley Stream South girls program for 13 years beginning in 1993, Pete DiThomas had a pretty good idea what the boys would bring to the courts this spring after splitting 14 matches last season.

“I worked as a supervisor for the boys matches last year and coached some of them in volleyball,” DiThomas said. “Kristi Hinkelman coached boys tennis here a long time and did a fantastic job with the kids. She deserves a lot of credit. I inherited a great situation.”

Spearheaded by their four first-time doubles combinations and competitive efforts at singles, the Falcons finished a strong 11-3 in Conference 3B and were in the running for the title until the final day of the regular season. Plainedge, which split tightly contested matches with South, went 12-2. Calhoun was third and Valley Stream Central rounded out what DiThomas said was a challenging top four.

“The top four teams were almost like a coin flip,” he said. “If we played any of those other three 10 times, we’d each win five.”

Plainedge, Calhoun and Central all edged the Falcons by 4-3 margins in their respective second meetings after South beat all three by the same score the first time around.

DiThomas’ starting lineup included only two seniors — David Huang at No. 1 singles and James Lee at No. 2 singles. They both held their own against top competition, winning five and six matches, respectively.

“David was the backbone of the team,” DiThomas said of Huang. “He was like having an assistant coach. His abilities and work ethic are great. He has a tremendous swing and he’s the type of kid you’ll see outside hitting balls during the winter when it’s 35 degrees outside.”

Lee is another tireless worker, the coach said, and was never intimidated by anyone. “He just went out and played hard every match,” DiThomas explained.

At third singles, Justin Ocampo managed four victories and dropped a bunch of hard-fought three-set matches. He made the biggest rise of anyone in the program after playing third doubles a year ago. “He made a huge jump and performed admirably,” DiThomas said. “He was clearly our most improved player.”

While the Falcons held their own at singles, it was their dominant pairings that carried them, the coach said. All told, South went 47-9 in doubles and had double digits in wins in every spot.

The top tandem of freshman Richard Chau and eighth-grader Brandon Yeh finished a perfect 14-0. “They spend a lot of time on the court and it showed,” DiThomas said. “They were without question the best in the conference. Both are candidates to move up to singles next year.”

Junior Alex Quinn and freshman Adam Li went 10-4 at second doubles, junior Zane Amray and freshman Justice Holland went 11-3 at third doubles, and freshmen Oliver Trzcinski and Aoke Huang rolled up 12 wins at fourth doubles. Sophomore Ishman Hafiz was a key alternate.

“I was impressed with these kids right from the opening match when we beat Calhoun,” DiThomas said.