This fall, Rachel Arbitman will begin the next stage of her tennis career as she heads to Cambridge, Mass. to join Harvard University after a stellar junior career.
“Since joining us at JMTA, Rachel quickly emerged as a leader both on and off the court,” said Greg Lumpkin, JMTA Long Island’s Associate Director. “Rachel is the ideal role model for our up and coming players. Her focus, dedication and discipline has allowed her to reach the highest level of tennis in the country while maintaining an excellent academic standard. I expect to see her continue to thrive with her tennis and academics as she starts her next chapter at Harvard.”
It was a long recruiting process, one that dates back multiple years as Arbitman was one of the country’s top recruits since she was a sophomore in high school. Choosing the right college is always a difficult decision for a high schooler, but it can be even more difficult when you are one of the top recruits, a five-star, blue chip recruit, in your respective sport and have a multitude of options presented in front of you.
“I really tried to take my time with the process, and really narrow it down to where I wanted to use my official and unofficial visits,” said Arbitman. “I originally got it down to seven schools, four Ivy Leagues which were Harvard, Dartmouth, Columbia and Yale, and University of California Berkley, Ohio State and Rice. I really wanted to see the different environments and what the atmospheres were like at the different schools, so I could really make an informed decision.”
In the end, it came down to University of California at Berkley and Harvard University.
“When it came down to UC Berkley and Harvard, one was a full-ride whereas the other one we’d have to pay everything. It was definitely a tough decision, but between the location and where I wanted to be academically, Harvard was the right choice for me. I fell in love with the amazing and friendly atmosphere there! It was awesome to see such teamwork and collaboration which is what I’ve always wanted in a school.”
But before that, Arbitman is getting ready for her senior season competing for the Hewlett Bulldogs, something that may not have seen possible just a few months ago. The girls tennis season here on Long Island is set to start in the beginning of March, after the season was postponed and moved to the spring, tennis players across the Island are excited for the return of interscholastic sports.
One of the players who may be most excited is Arbitman, who gets to enjoy tennis in her senior year of high school.
“In the beginning, we really did not think we were going to have any type of season with how the pandemic was going,” she recalls. ‘They literally cancelled everything. We only found out very recently that we were even going to have a season. With tennis, we were hopeful because it’s a sport that’s easy to social distance with, and it was one of the first sports back after quarantine ended...our team is like a family, we are all so close. And especially coming back for my senior year, I’m so excited that I’ll be able to represent my school and play with this team one last time.”
Arbitman has been one of the most dominant players on Long Island, if not the most, over the last couple of seasons, racking up accolades that include winning the New York State singles title in 2018, and the state doubles title in 2019. But beyond her play inside those white lines, Arbitman has had a strong impact on her teammates and the Hewlett program.
“Rachel and I have definitely gotten much closer since we’ve been on the same team and it’s always a good time hanging out with her as she’s a positive influence, and we share a lot in common,” said Nyla Gershfeld, a Hewlett freshman who won the state doubles title with Arbitman in 2019. “She’s also a great team leader because when I first joined the team, in seventh grade, I didn’t know many people but Rachel welcomed me, made me feel like I was a part of a family, and made playing high school tennis a really fun experience.”
For a player who is used to traveling the country to compete in some of the biggest national tournaments, and train on a consistent basis, the quarantine has abruptly halted that routine. Her dedication to getting better wouldn’t allow her just to let that time pass by, and instead she really turned her focus to fitness.
“Everything was closed and locked up, I couldn’t even step on a tennis court,” she recalls. “I became really into fitness. It was always a big part of my life, but even more so during quarantine. Going for runs and working out, that’s really how I kept the athletic part of my life going. Another thing was I was able to spend more time with my family, which was great. Between traveling to different states and going to school, my schedule was always so hectic. I was always running around and staying busy, so to have the time to lay back and spend time with family was really awesome for me.”
Nyla Gershfeld (left) and Rachel Arbitman (right) after winning the 2019 Nassau County Doubles title. The duo would go on to win the New York State doubles title later that year.
Arbitman is now set to spend time with her second family, her teammates on the Hewlett Bulldogs. Her teammates have been in close contact throughout the past year-plus, and are ready to get right back into team practices and workouts when the time comes.
“We had a team meeting including coaches which was really good. Throughout the year, though, the team has been talking a lot, because we’re all really close friends,” she said. “As we get closer to the season I think we’ll do some team workouts. I definitely want to get those organized and I’ve already talked to the girls about that. That’ll be a really good start.”
While it will be nice to see and compete with her teammates again, the Hewlett Bulldogs have goals it wants to reach this season. Hewlett has been right in the thick of the county title race over the last couple of years, and is ready to take the next step this year, led by Arbitman at the top of the lineup.
“Definitely to take it all home,” she said when asked what the goal is for Hewlett this year. “It’s my last year, we just want to win. We all want to win.”
The senior year for a high schooler is supposed to be one of fun and enjoying the last months of this chapter in your life. For seniors across the country, that has not been the case this year, but it doesn’t mean there are not good things to come on the horizon, and Arbitman has decided to look at the bright side of things.
“The senior year is supposed to be all about the social aspect, where you can hang out with your friends one last time before everyone scatters across the country to different colleges,” she said. “All in all, it’s not that, but we’re all trying to make the most of it. Hopefully prom and graduation will happen, and I know everyone is really excited that sports are coming back as well. I’m just excited to get closer with everyone on the team again, and actually be able to be with them. After not seeing everybody for such a long time, this tennis season should be great and we can be a family again like old times.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.