| By Bobby Colton
Credit: Polka Dot Images

As the Syosset and Garden City Girls’ High School Varsity Tennis teams took to the courts on Friday in Cold Spring Harbor with the Nassau County title on the line, the opponent was far from the forefront of the players’ minds. All of the girls knew that the real challenge today would be to triumph over Mother Nature. The two schools were greeted with temperatures dipping into the low 40s and the wind was ripping through the courts.

Both coaches were well aware of the impact the weather would have on the county championships as well.

“It’s going to be a battle,” said Syosset’s coach Larry Levane. “Both teams are evenly matched. It’s going to come down to who can handle the elements, and who can win the big points.”

Garden City’s coach, Crystal Boyd, expressed a similar sentiment before the pivotal match. “We have a real good shot. We’re two evenly matched teams. Whoever plays the elements better today will win.”

These two schools had already met twice this season before the big County Championship game, and both previous matchups went Syosset’s way. However, both of these showdowns were extremely close. In their last meeting, Syosset was victorious, winning 5-2, but not without some drama. With the score knotted at 2-2, three matches went into third sets. Fortunately for Syosset, they won all three tight matchups.

As the County Championship got underway, the two schools proved right away that they were evenly matched. The first and second doubles matches went relatively quickly to Garden City, as Marisa Cameron & Hannah Eilbeck bested Syosset’s Natalie Nicholas & Lisa Petruzillo, while Laura Ketigian & Brittany Berk defeated Jen Glukhman & Alexa Sternchein. Syosset evened things up thanks to the impressive play from their late doubles teams, with the Hayley O’Rourke & Katie Cirella and Stacey Anton & Paige Gindi teams trumping their Garden City counterparts. Then, just like that, it was down to the singles teams.

The first match to finish was the third singles bout between Syosset’s Rithika Reddy and Garden City’s Alyssa Rosello. After line judges were put in place to settle point disputes, Reddy surged ahead giving Syosset a slim 3-2 lead in matches.

The lead was short lived, as Garden City Senior and first singles star Jacqueline Raynor outlasted Syosset’s Hannah Camhi for the second time in a week, after Raynor knocked off Camhi in the Nassau County Singles Tournament. After Raynor dominated the first set, Camhi caught a second wind to take a 6-5 lead in the second set. Unfortunately for Camhi, her comeback came up short when Raynor won the set in a tie-breaker, dead-locking the schools once again.

“It was a good win for the team,” Raynor said modestly. With things evened up at 3-3, all eyes turned to the second singles battle which would decide the championship.

This was a matchup that drew great intrigue even before it became the deciding match. Syosset’s Ashley Sandler, the team’s top senior, was fighting to make sure that this wouldn’t be her last match as a Lady Brave, while Garden City countered with young seventh grader, Morgan Hermann. Sandler surged ahead early for Syosset, winning the first set, but Hermann wasn’t ready to give up yet. After a back and forth second set, it came down to a tie-breaker. Knowing her team had its back up against the wall, Hermann dug deep and topped Sandler to force a third set.

After losing the second set, Sandler was visibly shaken, but Coach Levane took initiative to talk to his player.

“I was calming her down,” Levane said. “She was a little nervous and overwhelmed. I just wanted to remind her of what she’d done before and how much she’d accomplished. I told her to just rely on experience and trust her strokes.”

Coach Levane’s pep talk worked wonders. Sandler came out of it looking like she could have won the U.S. Open, dominating Hermann to take a commanding 4-0 lead, essentially sealing Syosset’s second consecutive Nassau County Title. Hermann managed to steal one game, but Sandler cruised through the third set to win 6-1.
This match came down to experience.

“I just let her make the mistakes,” a modest Sandler admitted, as she took advantage over the inexperienced Hermann when the pressure was at its maximum point. Syosset can credit Sandler for this win. As her teammate Reddy put it, “She’s saved us twice now.”

Syosset now gears up for a shot at its second straight Long Island title.

Bobby Colton

<p>Bobby Colton is a student at Syosset High School who covers the Long Island tennis scene. &nbsp;</p>