Herricks senior Vihar Shah was part of a special class of Nassau tennis players last season.
Shah finished fourth at the individual state singles championships as Section VIII had the best team at the tournament, producing the state singles champion (Josh Levine, Cold Spring Harbor), the singles runner-up (Andrew Yaraghi, Friends Academy), and two doubles pairs that earned top-four medals.
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But Shah is the only returning player from that bunch, and this year wants to lead a new group of Long Island tennis stars.
"I feel like I carry the burden on my shoulders,'' Shah said. "We'll have other kids from Nassau step up and I hope we win as a section again and hopefully I win states.''
Shah said he has increased his training regimen to include early-morning runs before school and more frequent trips to the gym in order to improve his conditioning. He said last year he would tire at the end of matches against some higher competition, but this season is determined to stay in better shape so he can finish on top.
"I feel like I can do a lot better this year. I've been working hard and I'm going to work harder,'' Shah said. "I feel like I have a good chance to win states and win counties so I'm excited for that. I want it pretty bad.''
But Shah realizes there are others on Long Island who stand in his way.
Two of the three singles players that represented Suffolk at the state tournament last season are returning: Zain Ali of Hills East and Brandon Stone of Whitman. In Nassau, North Shore senior Phillip Antohi, in his first year on varsity, already is signed to play at Cornell next season, and Conor Dauer from Cold Spring Harbor also is expected to be strong.
Still, Shah believes the championship is his for the taking and he's ready to seize the opportunity.
"I know it's tough,'' he said. "But if I put in the extra work, I can win it for sure.''