Hewlett’s Rachel Arbitman said she was already having the time of her life before she even stepped on the court for the championship match of the girls state tennis tournament last October.
She was about to complete her first year playing for Hewlett as a freshman after years of training and competing solely in tournaments outside of school.
Though she came up just short in that match, the overall experience was enough to bring her back to take another crack at it this year.
“My first year I just had the best experience representing my school,” Arbitman, the Nassau county champion, said. “On our bus rides we would jam out to songs and sing all together and just have a really fun time. Those were my favorite moments after I had always been by myself at these tournaments.”
All the winning didn’t hurt either.
“You always hear about these type of players, that she’s nationally ranked and all that,” Hewlett coach Abby Samlin said. “When she came in it was evident she was going to go far. It just wasn’t her day at states. We’ll take it one step at a time this year but I can’t see her doing any less.”
Arbitman makes sure to maintain an even keel on the court, never getting too high or too low, though she can’t help that expectations this year will be even higher.
“She’s just so solid and steady and nothing fazes her,” Samlin said. “She doesn’t lose her composure and she doesn’t show any negative emotion. She just works hard and knows when to step it up and lay back. She’s an all-around player.”
Arbitman still participates in tournaments outside school competition and said she often gets questions about playing for her high school.
“Other players would ask me, ‘Why are you doing it?” she said. “They think the competition isn’t as good but I keep saying it’s the best experience I’ve ever had, being with a team and playing for your school. I couldn’t praise it enough.”
The regular season competition will be tougher this year as Hewlett is making the jump to Conference I after winning Conference II-A.
“Conference I has always been strong,” Samlin said. “I think we’re going to hold our own in singles and if we can get our doubles teams together we should compete. Playing in Conference I will be good for us as well as Rachel.”
Defending Long Island champion Port Washington returns the core of its championship team and will be in the hunt in Conference I.
“After last year's experience they’re hungry for more,” coach Shane Helfner said. “I tried to explain to them that we’re coming in with higher expectations and we’re going to get everyone’s best shot. Conference I is loaded with really good teams.”
Led by eighth grader Thea Rabman and senior Brittany Polevikov the Vikings have talent at the top and depth throughout the lineup.
Newcomer Andrea Martinez de los Rios, a seventh grader, is expected to slot into the second singles spot.
In Suffolk, defending champion Ward Melville returns a deep and talented squad led by two-time all-state first singles Denise Lai. Jade Eggleston and doubles players Dara Berman and Anna Ma will also be key.
Upstart Westhampton, which earned a big early season non-league win over the Patriots, adds Mercy transfer Rose Hayes to the top of the lineup and will be a contender.
“We’ve had some pretty deep teams the last few years but we seem to hit a brick wall in the quarterfinals of the county playoffs,” Westhampton coach John Czartoseski said. “The addition of Rose and some JV players really helps our depth.”
OTHERS TO WATCH
Steffi Antao, New Hyde Park, Sr.
After finishing second in Nassau last season she made the quarterfinals at the state tournament.
Rose Hayes, Westhampton, Soph.
Finished second in Suffolk and made the state quarterfinals while playing for Mercy last season.
Denise Lai, Ward Melville, Sr.
Came in third in Suffolk in 2017 and 2016 and made the second round of state tournament both years.
Thea Rabman, Port Washington, 8th grade
Won the Nassau doubles championship last season and will be playing first singles for the defending county champions this year.