Nassau County Boys Preview
Player to Watch: Kabir Rajpal, Syosset High School
The first singles spot for the Syosset Braves has been held down by one of the best players in Nassau County for the past few seasons.
That was Neel Rajesh two years ago and Daniel Pellerito last season. And while there will be a new face holding that spot down in 2019, Syosset expects a smooth transition with Kabir Rajpal entering the mix.
Rajpal previously played second singles for the Braves as a freshman in 2017 and as an eighth grader in 2016, and after taking a year off in 2018 to focus on his tournament training, returns this year in hopes of leading Syosset to a fifth straight Nassau County Championship.
“Anytime you have someone as talented and competitive as Kabir back in the lineup, it’s a huge addition,” said Syosset Head Coach Shai Fisher. “I know he’s been training extremely hard with his private coach over this time to be the best player he can be. People might not remember that he played second singles for us in eighth and ninth grade, and went undefeated both of those years. So to have him back in his junior year, more mature and even more motivated, will make the team that much stronger.”
It was an easy decision to come back, Rajpal says. He was already eager to return, and after speaking with both Fisher and his older brother Preet, who was a captain last year and a back-to-back County Doubles Champion, that decision was made even easier.
“Coach Fisher is a great coach. He really wanted me to play, and I really wanted to do it for him and the team because we have the best team on Long Island, in my opinion,” said Rajpal. “We want that fifth straight title. My brother is in college now, but was the captain last year, and we talked on the phone for hours about all of the factors which really helped me make my decision.”
His tennis has improved a great deal since his freshman season, and Kabir says his game has a come a long way.
“I wanted to focus on the transition from younger junior tennis, to the ‘big boy’ stage of tennis … a big serve and forehand, coming to the net and being aggressive,” said Kabir. “I feel more comfortable being a big hitter now.”
And while he didn’t compete with the team last season, he wasn’t too far away from his teammates.
“I think it was a good decision to take the year off, but I tried to come watch the team play as much as I could,” Kabir added. “I was at the County and Long Island finals to see them take it again and it was great.”
Being around that winning culture has been commonplace for Rajpal since he was in middle school, so being immersed right back into won’t be too much of an adjustment for him.
“There is always pressure, but I look at it more as motivation. It’s all about how you handle it,” Kabir said. “It’s almost like a changing of the guard. The older players go to college and it’s our time now; we become the upperclassmen. I remember how I felt as an eighth and ninth grader. I always looked up the older players and loved talking to them to get advice. And now it’s exciting to be in this spot. It provides perspective on just how fast time goes. The captains we have, Miles Capell and Peter Bukary, are unbelievable. They’re going to fill in perfectly, and we gel really well together as a team. Everyone knows each other. I’m really excited for this season. The team comes first, so my team and I will do whatever we can to get this fifth straight Nassau County title.”
Syosset has been one of the most dominant programs on Long Island over the last few years, and much of that success can be attributed to its pipeline of players, and the development of those players as they get older. Despite taking a year off, Kabir was still a part of the program and that culture, and will now be tasked with leading at the top of the lineup as his Braves begin defense of its Nassau County and Long Island titles.
“It will be a completely different and youthful team, but I know this year’s two newly named captains are super excited for the upcoming season,” said Fisher. “Kabir will definitely be providing leadership in his own way as well. It’s not his first time on the varsity team, he knows the other captains extremely well and I feel that the chemistry he has with them and the other boys on the team will make for a smooth transition for everyone.”
Nassau County Players to Watch for the 2019 High School Season
►Alex Karman, Port Washington
►Jared Phillips, Plainview JFK
►Gabriele Brancatelli, Port Washington
►Griffin Schlesinger, Cold Spring Harbor
►Mike Weitz, Roslyn
►Niles Ghaffar, Massapequa
Suffolk County Boys Preview
Player to Watch: Alex Rzehak, Harborfields High School
One of the best traits an athlete at any level can have is their ability to continually improve on their skills from one year to the next. Alex Rzehak of Harborfields possesses that trait.
“Alex has been on the varsity team for the past four years and has been our number one singles player for the past three years,” said Harborfields High School Head Coach Bob Davis. “His steady improvement over that time has lifted him up to the category of elite players in Suffolk County. He’s really improved his overall game.”
That improvement has resulted in Rzehak being an All-State player in each of the last two years, and has helped Harborfields remain competitive inside a tough League 1 in Suffolk County.“His serve has become more of a weapon and he can rely on it more now. His groundstrokes are more accurate and his volleying has become more reliable as well,” said Davis. “But his biggest improvement is how he approaches each match. He has a plan and stays with it throughout the match. He’s a very methodical player. Alex has been the state alternate for the past two years, and I know one his goals this year is to play at the state tournament and do well there. He has certainly put in the time and effort.”
The Tornadoes reached the quarterfinals the playoffs last year, and Rzehak played an integral role in that run, as he defeated Danny Tocco at the top singles spot in straight sets to lead the team in a second round showdown with Westhampton Beach. And now, as Rzehak heads into his senior season, both he and the team will strive to build on the success of the past couple of seasons.
“We are going to have to put a lot of hours in on and off the court in preparation for each match,” said Rzehak. “Hopefully with enough work, we will be able to take down some of the top teams like Hills East, Hills West and Commack this year to win the conference.”
One of the main aspects of his game that Rzehak wanted to work on as he heads into this season was his mental strength during his matches. He was defeated in the Suffolk County semifinals, and wants to improve upon that result.
“Last year, I felt as though I cracked under pressure at Counties,” said Rzehak. “So I have been working on my mentality during big matches and important points so I can get through those tough opponents.”
On an individual level, Rzehak’s goal this season is to go one step further than he has in the previous two, and go on to compete at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Championships. In order to do so, he will need to finish in one of the top three spots in the County’s Individual Championships later this spring.
But until then, Rzehak’s focus is to maintain the steady improvement that he has demonstrated over the last couple of seasons, and which has elevated him to the player he is. While individual results are important, the senior is excited for one more season together with his Harborfields teammates.
“I am really looking forward to spending time with my team again,” Rzehak said. “We had a lot of fun last season and competing with a team behind you is a great feeling.”
Suffolk County Players to Watch for the 2019 High School Season
►Connor Cochrane, Bay Shore
►Josh Kaplan, Westhampton Beach
►Matthew Kronenberg, Ward Melville
►Alan Sabovic, Connetquot
►Matthew Strogach, Commack
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.