| By Brian Coleman
Port Washington eighth-grader Thea Rabman will look to lead the Vikings as it looks to defend its county and Long Island titles.
Photo Credit: Long Island Tennis Magazine

 

2018 Team to Watch (Nassau County): Port Washington

Last year, the Girls Tennis Team from Port Washington compiled one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory as it captured both the Nassau County and Long Island team championships.

Now, the Vikings enter the 2018 season as the prohibitive favorites in Nassau County and Long Island, and are ready for the challenge that presents.

“It was a memorable season, and they want it even more now,” Port Washington Head Coach Shane Helfner said of his team’s mentality. “The girls are working hard this offseason and many of them are competing in tournaments. Many of the players are coming back with championship experience, and that will only help us get there again.”

Port Washington lost its season opener to Great Neck North last year, but then rattled off 17 consecutive wins to finish out the year. While the winning streak and subsequent championships are impressive on their own, what made Port Washington’s success even more remarkable was just how young the team was.

At the heart of that young talent is its top singles players, eighth-grader Thea Rabman.

“She is on the quiet side, but a leader in the way she works and the example it sets for the rest of the team,” Helfner said of Rabman. “I know she is playing a lot this summer, and having that first year of playing on a school team and handling that type of atmosphere under her belt will only help going into this season.”

Port Washington captured the Nassau County and Long Island Championships in 2017. 

 

The strength of the team lies in its depth. Despite losing three starters from last year, Port Washington has crop of young talent coming up to the varsity level which will make up for the players that have graduated. The wealth of talent pushes the rest of the team to maintain their level and their grip on their spot in the lineup, and that sort of competition brings out the best in everyone.

“We have even younger players coming into our program, and the girls know that they have to work really hard to keep their spot because we are loaded,” said Helfner. “It’s important that everyone embraces their role, no matter where they are playing.”

In addition to Rabman, many key players will be back for Port Washington as it begins its title defense, including doubles players Brittany Polevikov, who played first doubles and has been on the team since she was an eighth-grader, as well as the second doubles team of Casey Fanous & Charlotte Forman, who have been playing together for a couple of seasons. Kelsey Sy went undefeated in the third doubles spot and will return to the doubles lineup once again this year, while seventh-grader Andrea Martinez de los Rios will step into the lineup and play second singles.

It will be tough to top last year for Port Washington after it won its first Nassau County title since 2013 and were crowned the best team on Long Island. But with a loaded roster and championship experience, Port Washington is hoping to be in the midst of creating a dynasty.

“We are entering this season with a different mentality, and we need to understand that every team wants to take down the best,” said Helfner. “We will be getting every team’s best shot, and we have to be more ready than we were before. We cannot have an off day, and need to be ready for every match.”

2018 Nassau County players to watch

►​Steffi Antao, New Hyde Park

►Rachel Arbitman, Hewlett

►Amy Delman, Great Neck North

►Julia Kielan, Valley Stream South

►​Calista Sha, Friends Academy

Rachel Arbitman of Hewlett captured the Nassau County singles title and reached the NYSPHSAA Finals a year ago. 

 

Key dates for the 2018 Nassau County Girls High School season

►Wednesday, Sept. 12: Regular Season Begins

►Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 13-14: Individual County Tournament

►Monday-Sunday, Oct. 15-21: Team County Tournament

►Monday-Wednesday, Oct. 22-24: Tentative Dates for Long Island Championship

►Friday-Sunday, Oct. 27-29: 2018 NYSPHSAA Championships


2018 Team to Watch (Suffolk County): Ward Melville

The Ward Melville Patriots captured the 2017 Suffolk County Championship, downing Half Hollow Hills East 4-3 in a thrilling contest that came down to the last match.

“We thought we’d probably be able to reach the semifinals, but after that, you never know,” said Ward Melville Head Coach Erik Sussin. “I didn’t expect to win a County Title. It was pretty amazing.”

A year later, the Patriots enter 2018 with slightly different expectations than it did before last season. As defending Suffolk County Champions, the Patriots begin the season with a target on its back as it ventures out into a title defense.

“We lost a total of 10 seniors who graduated, but the majority of those were deeper in the lineup or didn’t play, so we are returning a lot,” said Sussin. “The strength of our team is those five girls we have returning who were either All-County or All-State. Suffolk is difficult, there is a lot of young talent, but we are ready for the challenge. I do expect us to get back to the semifinals this year, and if we can get back to the finals again, that’s great. A lot of time it comes down to the team you match up against, and it worked to our benefit last year in the County Tournament.”

One of those key contributors from last year’s team is top singles player Denise Lai. The senior has been an All-State player in each of the last two seasons, and will once again anchor the Ward Melville starting lineup.

Lai has reached the second round of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Girls Singles Championships both in 2016 and 2017, and will be relied upon to lead the Patriots in 2018.

Denise Lai will be at the top of the Ward Melville lineup once again in 2018. 

 

“Denise is a really strong player, and she expects to get better each year. She has been in the second round at States, so her goal should be to get to the third round of States this year,” said Sussin. “There is so much young talent in the County, but her goal is to get to States and hopefully reach the third round.”

In addition to Li, Jade Eggleston and Anna Ma return to the singles lineup, two talented and experienced singles players who will bolster the Patriots’ depth.

Despite playing in Suffolk’s League V, Ward Melville has become a perennial contender in the County. Its talented core is a major reason for that, but so is the team’s preparation throughout the season and its willingness to schedule tough regular season matchups.

“Every three years, we are scheduled to play the League I teams, but I make sure to set up matches with those teams each year, even if we aren’t mandated to play them,” said Sussin. “I want to see what they’re like, and I don’t mind getting losses early in the season. I think by the end of the year, when they do the seeding, the proper teams get seeded high, so we don’t hide from the top teams.”

 

Ward Melville didn’t lose a match in Suffolk County last season, its only defeat was at the hands of Port Washington in the Long Island Championship. The team has lofty goals and high expectations entering 2018 as the defending Suffolk County Champions, and will begin its title defense with a road match against Westhampton on Aug. 30.

2018 Suffolk County players to watch

►Andrea Brazyte, Connetquot​

►Taylor Goetz, Harborfields​

►Rose Hayes, Westhampton Beach

►Lauren Hutton, Harborfields​

►Emily Tannenbaum, Commack

Rose Hayes, who previously played for the now-closed McGann-Mercy High School, should be one of the top players in Suffolk County once again in 2018 as she joins Westhampton Beach.

 

Key dates for the 2018 Suffolk County Girls High School season

►Tuesday, Aug. 28: Regular Season Begins

►Wednesday, Oct. 3: Regular Season Ends

►Monday-Wednesday, Oct. 22-24: Tentative Dates for Long Island Championship

►Friday-Sunday, Oct. 27-29: 2018 NYSPHSAA Championships

 

Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com