Stephan Gershfeld sat down after his semifinal win in the Nassau boys singles tennis tournament and knew he was a match away from achieving a goal he had been working toward since he joined the Hewlett tennis team as a seventh-grader.
The sophomore sat and waited around two hours for the other semifinal to finish and for his opponent to have the proper amount of time to rest on a hot afternoon.
"It was mentally tough," Gershfeld said. "You have to stay focused and you can’t daze off and physically it takes a lot out of you, too, with the nerves from the tournament. My adrenaline was pumping, which kept me in it and I was able to deal with everything thanks to the help of my teammates and family who were there to support me."
Gershfeld leaned on that support and the work he had put in over the years to reach his goal, defeating Mikey Weitz of Roslyn, 6-2, 6-1, to win the title last Sunday at Eisenhower Park.
"It’s been my dream to win counties since seventh grade," he said. "I got myself prepared for this tournament. This was the one I was looking to win."
It was a culmination of an effort that began even before he decided to join his school’s team.
Gershfeld has played tennis for as long as he can remember. As a child, he said his parents wanted Stephan and his sister Nyla, a freshman on the girls team who was a part of a doubles state championship team in 2010, to play tennis with friends as a way to stay active and get out of the house.
By the time he was 9 years old, the pair started to take it more seriously and knew they wanted to make tennis more than just a hobby.
"Our dad played college tennis at Binghamton and has been our coach for a long time," Gershfeld said. "He really encouraged us and pushed us to get out on the court. Tennis and our academics became our focus."
The talent was evident from the moment he stepped onto the court at Hewlett, though it wasn’t always easy in the beginning.
"In seventh and eighth grade, I was a little crazy on the court because I was so into the game," he said. "I’m very competitive and I treated losing one point like losing the match. Now I’ve learned to deal with it better and I’ve worked on keeping my composure."
But Gershfeld didn’t have to deal with losing many points this season. He went 15-0 without dropping a set, and only twice this season was an opponent able to take even three games in a set from him.
"He’s very quick and he’s fast on the court and he’s got variety," first-year Hewlett coach Joyce Raikos said. "And what amazed me was how humble he is. He never came on the court during practice and didn’t want to play with anyone. He was OK with whatever was asked of him."
Gershfeld has spent the spring outside of high school tennis playing in USTA tournaments across the country, including several L1 tournaments, the top level of USTA events.
"I’ve traveled around the nation to play and I’m used to playing in tough conditions," he said. "I’ve played in Texas and just came back from California, so I used those experiences in the county tournament."
Even with all the traveling and the prestigious events, Gershfeld still finds great joy in competing — and winning — for his school.
"I really enjoy team events and being with my school friends," he said. "I was always excited to play high school tennis. When I joined the team, I met new friends and some role models that I looked up to. It’s just been a blast."