Smithtown East senior Nicole Daniggelis knows what it takes to overcome adversity. After missing her junior season because of an ACL injury she said she suffered playing lacrosse, the sport she'll play at Yale next year, Daniggelis was unseeded entering the Suffolk girls tennis individual championships Saturday, and was an underdog all the way through the championship match Monday at her home school.
After upsetting second-seeded Half Hollow Hills East senior Ludmila Yamus in the semifinals, Daniggelis beat No. 5 Zenat Roshizada of Half Hollow Hills West for the title, coming from behind in the first set to win 6-3, 4-1, after Roshizada retired because of a leg injury.
"This is the best feeling ever,'' Daniggelis said. "I never thought I could do this after being out for so long. I only came back to have fun with my teammates and never expected anything like this. It's just great.''
In doubles, the top-seeded Harding sisters from Northport, senior Mickey and sophomore Bridget, dominated the field, dropping only two games in the tournament's first three rounds before beating No. 3 Sarah Han and Malini Desai of Hills West, 6-2, 6-1, in the title match.
The duo's chemistry was evident throughout, as the two had good spacing on the court and were strong in both the service game and at the net. With Mickey graduating in the spring, the sisters were glad to have had the chance to take home a title.
"I can't explain the connection we have, you don't get it with any other doubles partner,'' Bridget said. "This was our last year to do it and we wanted to make it worthwhile.''
The Hills East pair of Amanda Luper and Allison Huber, along with Yamus in singles, each came in third place and will join the singles and doubles finalists at the state championships Nov. 4.
In singles, Daniggelis trailed 3-1 in the opening set against Roshizada but broke serve twice and won five straight games to take it 6-3. Daniggelis survived a handful of long rallies in which both players showed excellent range and converted one difficult shot after another. Eventually, Daniggelis used her strong backhand and effective drop shot to move Roshizada around the court.
"[Daniggelis] is very strong, she's athletic and she gets to balls no one expects her to get to,'' Smithtown East coach Lou Gambeski said. "Her defensive game is mind-boggling.''
Roshizada beat Daniggelis in their only previous encounter, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, on Oct. 17 in the Division I semifinals. Monday, though, Daniggelis used that match to her advantage both strategically on the court and emotionally off of it.
Danniggelis lost her grandmother Sept. 17, and said that after losing to Roshizada, she happened to have found a heart-shaped rock that she associated with her grandmother and decided to keep it in her tennis bag for the rest of the season. With her parents, aunt and three other grandparents in attendance Monday, Danniggelis was even more motivated to succeed.
"Everyone in my family lives in Smithtown and it makes it so much better that they're here to support me,'' Daniggelis said. "I was thinking about and she played a huge part in my life. I know she was watching over me.''
Gambeski went on to praise Daniggelis for her toughness and perseverance.
"She's just one off those people, that rare gem that comes along twice in a lifetime,'' he said. "It's really an honor to coach someone like that.''