Jonny DeGroot does it all, but his biggest weapons are his serve and volley. Both were locked and loaded as he dominated Half Hollow Hills East’s Ishen Varma 6-2, 6-3 in East Hampton’s 5-2 nonleague loss to the Thunderbirds Wednesday.
“My serve was really on today,” said the Bridgehampton senior, whose team also pulls players from Pierson. “I was trying to get the early break and hold, and I pretty much shut him down today.”
Head coach Kevin McConville thought it was by far DeGroot’s best match of the season yet.
“He’s executing beautifully,” McConville said. “You have options with him. If things aren’t going well he always has plans B and C, because he has a complete all-court game. He can rally from the baseline, he can get in, he can finesse people. He’s really fun to watch.”
Varma’s eyes widened as several aces whizzed past him, and he had little time to react to early drop shots.
“His coach gave him some information, told him I come in a lot, so he started lobbing me,” DeGroot said. “I probably shouldn’t have been coming in so close, but it’s just too tempting.”
The No. 1 singles player split sets in two matches this season, winning a super tiebreaker in one and dropping the other, and swept his Shoreham-Wading River opponent, but Hills East was the returning county finalist from last season, so he knew he needed to perform at his best.
“The last couple games I haven’t been utilizing my serve and volley enough, it’s just been lackluster, forcing me to take too long to finish up matches, so today I came out on the court being aggressive,” DeGroot said. “I felt pretty good.”
Pierson freshman Luke Louchheim raked in the Bonackers’ second point at No. 3 singles with a 7-5, 6-4 sweep of Krithik Madisetty.
The rest of the team’s matches were closer than the final team score would indicate, especially a 6-4, 6-3 loss for No. 4 singles player Max Astilean, an East Hampton eighth-grader; Bridgehampton senior Jamie Fairchild and classmate Brad Drubych’s 6-3, 1-6, 4-6 loss at No. 2 doubles; and Matt McGovern and Miles Clark’s 6-4, 7-5 loss at No. 3 doubles.
“The teams were so evenly matched, it was really good competition,” McConville said. “The doubles were disappointing, but they fought hard — all could have gone either way.”
Going by records, the Thunderbirds are currently the best team on Long Island.
“I knew they were going to be really good, and we were going to have to be really good to beat them, and I think that gets in their heads the first time,” McConville said of his players. “They get jittery thinking they’re going to play these amazing players that are so much better than them, and then their next go around they’re a little more competitive and have more confidence.”
DeGroot said he loves watching Louchheim play, standing behind the fence as his teammate finished up his match.
“When I was a sophomore I played third singles, and I don’t think I would have beaten Luke,” he said, smiling. “For third singles, he’s probably the most solid on Long Island. He’s a really great player, especially for being so young.”
After Louchheim fell behind 4-1 to start the match, McConville said his freshman was frustrated, so he pulled him aside to talk about playing his opponent’s backhand, waiting for the short ball.
“He executed to perfection,” McConville said. “He settled in.”
DeGroot called the match an “eye-opener,” adding he believes his team might just have to switch some doubles teams around to find more chemistry. His coach added the strategy is there, just not the execution, with some unforced errors like double faults and missed returns adding up to change the course of the match.
“We need to get that stuff cleaned up, but that’s stuff we can work on in practice,” McConville said.
The Bonackers will want to be at their best before facing last year’s county champion Commack at home April 5. Hills East edged the Cougars 4-3 March 25, but Commack was without key players. Two of East Hampton’s players were also under the weather, so if both teams are at full strength the match could be another tossup.
“They can win, especially after losing to such close competition,” McConville said. “These kids need to believe they can turn the tide.”