By Bill Landon
The Patriots had been in this position before, but this time, all eyes were on senior Keren Collins.
The Ward Melville girls tennis team’s chance at redeeming last season’s finals loss to Commack for the Suffolk County team title came down to the third singles match, and Collins came from behind 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 to claim the crown for the No. 1 Patriots with a 4-3 edging of No. 2 Half Hollow Hills East Oct. 23.
“At first, the pressure was nonexistent, but when I found out [I was in the last match of the day] and up by three or four games, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to use that advantage and get this, right here,’” Collins said. “Last year we made it to the finals and lost to Commack, but this year we were determined to make it happen and I wasn’t going to let the chance slip away.”
While Collins was competing on the William Floyd court, third doubles pair Ellie Berger and Sam Sloan were playing alongside her. The Patriots duo dropped the second set 1-6 after winning a commanding first 6-1, and eked out a 6-4 win in the third over Lauren Kornfeld and Emily Me taxas.
After the win and even with the mounting pressure, Collins kept her pace and her power stroke strong as she wore down her opponent.
“I was able to hit down the middle and I kept going to every possible corner that I could,” she said. “But [Melissa Chen] was extremely athletic — she was able to get to almost everything, she was like a ball machine, so I had to tire her out as much as possible.”
Ward Melville head coach Erick Sussin said his three-time All-County player was a game-changer.
“Keren was able to change the dynamic of the game. What she lacks in mobility on the court she makes up with power,” he said. “With power — putting the slice in every so often — she mixed it up so that pace went from really fast to really slow, and that caught her opponent off=guard.”
Earlier in the match, Anna Ma won her fourth singles match 6-3, 6-1 and Denise Lai did her part in first singles, defeating Alexis Huber in convincing fashion 6-0, 6-2. But the two-time All-State player admitted she was nervous about whether her team could pull out a victory.
“I had some doubts,” Lai said. “Last year was kind of sad, we lost big time, but I’m so happy that we finally won.”
Sussin said that changing wind conditions presented a problem, especially during Collins match, but said she seemed to take the gusts of wind in stride.
“It was a factor early on, especially in that second set, and she used the wind when she needed to —when the wind was at her back her slice was dropping in,” Sussin said. “And when the wind was at her face she was able to hit through it with all her pace.”
Julia Hu, a three-time All-County player, said she did not doubt Collins in the nail-biting contest, even through standing still in silence with her teammates.
“I knew she could pull it out — she has that amazing mental strength,” Hu said. “She’s been playing tennis for so long and she knows she has to get the job done, and won’t let her emotions interfere with what she has to do.”
Ward Melville now turns its attention to winning the Long Island title. The undefeated, 18-0 Patriots will play Port Washington at Half Hollow Hills West Oct. 25 at 3 p.m.