For many top junior tennis players across the United States, the decision on whether or not to play for their high school varsity programs can often be a difficult one.
With strenuous tournament and training schedules occupying much of the player’s time, often times committing to play for ones high school team isn’t in the cards.
But that wasn’t the case for nationally-ranked Rachel Arbitman, who began her freshman year at Hewlett High School this past fall. Arbitman, currently ranked 13th in the country by TennisRecruiting.net amongst freshman, was eager to play high school tennis.
“I really wanted to play, and it was one of the best choices I’ve made in my life,” said Arbitman. “Since tennis isn’t a team sport, having that team atmosphere was great. It was so much fun being part of a team.”
Arbitman played in the top singles spot and helped lead the Bulldogs to an undefeated regular season record and a Conference II-A Championship. Hewlett would fall to eventual Nassau County and Long Island champion Port Washington in the playoffs, but it was still a fantastic season for the Bulldogs.
For Arbitman, personally, the freshman was nearly unbeatable. She went unbeaten and took home the Nassau County singles title and qualified for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) tournament upstate.
“It was really fun travelling up to states, rooming with the girls and having dinners with the whole section. We all came together,” recalls Arbitman. “It was a great experience, and I started out playing really well. Through the quarterfinals and semifinals, I was playing some of my best tennis.”
In the state semifinals, Arbitman defeated Great Neck North’s Amy Delman to book her spot in the final and into a showdown with 2016 finalist Julia Andreach of Our Lady of Mercy High School.
Despite her outstanding play leading up to the final, Arbitman didn’t have her normal confidence going into the last match.
“I usually don’t get nervous, but that night [before] I knew something was off,” she said. “At dinner, I wasn’t in a good mood and didn’t feel like myself. I had trouble sleeping. We had no warm up and the courts were playing fast, and I did not go into Monday performing to the best of my abilities. It was actually one of the worst matches I played in awhile, but Julia is an amazing player and she played great.”
Andreach would defeat Arbitman 6-4, 6-2 in the state final, but it did not diminish the successful freshman campaign that she put together. She wants to continue playing high school tennis, and will for sure be a favorite to win the county and state titles next fall.
Until then, Arbitman is still working on improving her game. She trains at Christopher Morley Tennis in Roslyn and has seen huge growth in her game since she joined the program a couple of years ago.
“She is a very competitive girl and loves winning,” said Andrea Retolaza, the Junior Director at Christopher Morley who has coached Arbitman over the last year. “She will do whatever it takes to win a match. During the last few years she has been working hard adjusting her forehand and serve techniques in order to be a more aggressive player.”
That aggressiveness is something Arbitman is still adding to her game. Her backhand is and always been the strength of her game, and she has developed a strong forehand.
“I’m working on making my forehand more of a weapon,” she said. “It’s getting close to my backhand.”
Her play at the net is also something Arbitman is diligently working on to make her game more well-rounded. Her conditioning and fitness has improved greatly in her time since joining Morley which has really complimented her strong technical game. Recently, she reached the semifinals at the USTA Girls 16s Indoor Championships in Minnesota, competing against some of the best players in the country as she continues to climb the national rankings.
She has come a long way from the girl who, as she put it, couldn’t get more than three balls inside the court when she first started playing. Now she is a blue chip recruit, and has goals of playing collegiate tennis down the road, and would love to be able to attend and play tennis for an Ivy League school.
But until then, she will continue to expand her game and get better. Arbitman still plans on playing high school tennis for the remainder of her tenure at Hewlett High School, something she believes is beneficial to her tennis career.
“I know I definitely want to play in all my years of high school,” she said. “I love the experience and it’s great for me.”
Just a freshman and still getting better, be sure to remember Arbitman’s name in the years to come.