This article first appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Long Island Tennis Magazine. Click Here to see the full digital edition.
If there is one thing we all learned in 2020 it’s that circumstances can change week-by-week, day-by-day and even hour-by-hour. The COVID-19 pandemic left all of us with a feeling of uncertainty, and no one knows what tomorrow will bring. That won’t end with the calendar changing from 2020 to 2021, but with promising news on the horizon, high school tennis seems poised to return this spring.
The reshuffling of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) 2020-2021 season pushed both the girls and boys’ tennis seasons to the spring, with the girls’ season coming first and set to begin on March 1.
“Although the season will definitely look different than our traditional girls’ season, I do think the season will happen,” said Shai Fisher, the Nassau County Coordinator for Girls’ Tennis and the head coach for Syosset. “We are classified as a low risk sport that naturally incorporates social distancing. Additionally, with all the health and safety protocol we have put in place for student-athletes and coaches, I feel that we can make the season a safe and meaningful one for everyone.”
One of Fisher’s Syosset co- captains, Alexa Brecher, can’t wait for the season to be here:
“I am extremely excited for our spring season. It’s probably one of the only things getting me through this year,” she said. “I am just grateful that we have one and I can’t wait to get back on the court with all of my girls. My school has been holding intramurals so everyone has been practicing to get ready for the season.”
It has been a difficult year for kids of all ages, and for athletes, missing out on that competition leaves a void for them.
“I’ve missed the competition and playing what I love amongst all my friends so the thought of being back on the courts in the spring is very exciting and I am looking forward to it,” said Islip’s Maya Levy.
Her teammate, Ciara Hand, echoed that sentiment:
“The competition is always tough, but it pushes us and makes us better,” she said. “I’ve missed playing with the team we have and making the new friendships among the team. I can’t wait to be back on those courts in the spring playing the sport I love!”
There are concerns, of course, in returning to competitive athletics, as the COVID-19 pandemic is not over and cases have risen in recent months. But both coaches and players are dedicated to adhering to all protocols to ensure there is a season and that it will be done in a safe manner.
“The only concerns that I have are making sure everyone is still safe and social distancing,” said Phoebe Levitsky of the defending Long Island champion Port Washington Vikings. “If we are able to do that in tennis, then I don’t see any other issues. I know everyone on the team has been working really hard and trying to play a lot which is great and I can’t wait for everyone to get back together.”
Mepham’s captain Julia Cicchillo added:
“Since we didn’t get a season this fall, I’m super excited to have the opportunity to play this spring,” she said. “I’m not too worried about playing since it’s an outdoor sport and there isn’t any contact. At Mepham, we had tennis intramurals for several weeks in order to get accustomed to the team again and get to know potential new teammates. I’m really hoping we get to have a season.”
This spring season will present some new challenges for coaches in terms of practice scheduled, traveling and match play. Longtime Commack head coach Jackie Clark understands the adjustments that will need to be made, and remains optimistic that there will high school tennis later this spring.
“Tennis can be played safely because there is not direct person to person contact and as long as everyone is following the safety guidelines, I believe we can compete. Hopefully we can start training indoors later this winter and work on fitness and footwork skills,” said Clark. “Since we usually play in the fall we will have to adjust too much colder weather with an early March start which will be challenging but I think the team will be happy to be back together and doing something that they are passionate about. I have missed coaching the team so much and am very excited about the upcoming season!”
Allowing these student-athletes to return to competing and socializing with one another is such an important factor, and with all parties committed to make sure it is done safely, the upcoming spring should be an exciting one for high school tennis on Long Island.
“Several coaches have expressed how important it is to make the season happen for their student-athletes from a social and emotional standpoint,” said Fisher. “Similarly, all have reached out with ideas and suggestions in hopes of making the season work.”
Below are some of the teams and players to watch for the upcoming season.
Nassau County Teams to Watch
There’s been no better team on Long Island over the last few years than the Vikings of Port Washington. The team has lost just one time over its last 51 matches, and went undefeated in 2019 en route to a county and Long Island championship. With young talent still at the top of its lineup, including singles players Thea Rabman and Ellie Ross, Port Washington will once again be the favorite to repeat as county champions, and have the opportunity to defend its Long Island title.
Great Neck North
The Blazers from Great Neck North came up one win shy of the county title a year ago, falling to the aforementioned Port Washington Vikings. This year’s team will be without top singles player and one of the best players in the state in Amy Delman, but returns key contributors Alyssa Ghassabian and Alina Lyakhov, both of whom represented their team and the county at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Championships last year. With the two of them leading way, Great Neck North should once again be in contention for the county title.
One of the toughest teams to beat over the last couple of years has been the Hewlett Bulldogs, both because of its top-tier talent in singles, but also because of a deep roster that spreads talent across all seven courts during a match. Led by senior and Harvard-commit Rachel Arbitman, Hewlett will once again be on the radar for a county title. Arbitman won the state singles title two years ago, and partnered with Nyla Gershfeld to win the state doubles title a year ago. With those two anchoring the Hewlett lineup, the Bulldogs will be tough to beat this season.
The Braves have been one of the more consistent teams over the last few years, and that should be no different in 2021. Despite losing some key contributors in its starting lineup, Syosset will be in good hands with Alex Ho and Alexa Brecher leading the singles lineup, and with depth at each position, something Syosset has been known for over the years, the team will be a tough opponent for anyone in the county.
Friends Academy should be in for a huge bump in success this coming season. A season ago, freshman Isabella Sha played first singles and won all 10 of her singles matches, something she will look to repeat and build upon this fall in her sophomore campaign. If Sha is able to have that sort of success once again, and Friends gets contributions from its doubles teams, the Quakers could be on the verge of a deep playoff run.
Suffolk County Teams to Watch
The Hurricanes have been dominant in Suffolk County and have put together a great run over the last two seasons. Those seasons have ended in grand fashion with two Suffolk County titles, and a Long Island championship two years ago. Returning this year will be top player Rose Hayes, the two-time defending county singles champion, who will lead a group of girls eager to reclaim its throne as LI champions.
Commack has been one of the steadiest teams on Long Island for the last several years, compiling multiple years of sustained success, and that should be no different once again in 2021. Led by one of the Island’s best players in Emily Tannenbaum, as well as a deep cast of singles and doubles talent to fill out the roster, Commack should be a serious threat to win its first county title since 2016.
The Buccaneers of Islip came up just one match-win shy of being the Suffolk champions and representing the county in the Long Island championship. Despite losing a host of senior talent, the Islip program will be eager to return to the county title game this fall, and go one step further than it did a year ago, led by the likes of Maya Levy, Ava Andria, Ava Delisle and Ciara Hand.
Last year, Hauppauge was led by Andriana Zaphiris, who claimed the third-place prize at the county singles tournament. Now a senior, Zaphiris will look to build off of that success, both in the individual tournament as well as in a leadership role for her Hauppauge Eagles. Along with second singles player Melody Chang, Zaphiris and Hauppauge look to put together a season that sees it make a deep playoff run.
Half Hollow Hills East
By the Thunderbirds standards, 2019 was a bit of a disappointment, one it aims to make up for this fall. The Half Hollow Hills East program has been synonymous with winning for decades now, so failing to reach the county title match can seem like the season came up short. In 2021, look for Hills East to be a force to be reckoned with. Led by top talent such as senior Janelle Chen and junior Skylar Semon, who went to the state tournament a year ago in doubles, the Thunderbirds will be one of the teams in contention for a county title.
Some players are subject to change. Stay tuned to LITennisMag.com and follow us on social media for more updates and news on the upcoming season.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.