For most tennis teams, being named the best squad on Long Island would be a peak achievement. But the Port Washington girls tennis team is just getting started.
The squad was named Long Island High School Tennis Team of the Year even though the team consisted of mostly underclassmen and two of the best players are still in middle school.
“What I see here is that we are starting a little dynasty,” said Shane Helfner, who runs both the boys and girls tennis teams at Port and was recently named Nassau County Coach of the Year.
Helfner grew up playing tennis in Commack and has been coaching tennis since 2008. He came to Port four years ago and said he saw signs of 2017’s dominance in the 2016 squad.
“We were very, very young last year and we were around .500 from most of the year,” he said. “And then they took a huge step forward.”
Helfner credits the improvement to many of the players participating in tournaments in the offseason. When the girls returned to school last fall, they were ready to play.
“I try to push them to gain that competitive match experience,” he said. “The tournaments make them not intimidated to play older and stronger players.”
Certainly, much of the Lady Vikings’ opponents were older. In addition to having two middle school players, most of the team consisted of freshman and sophomores. Nonetheless, the team finished the season with a 17-1 record and was Conference I champion, county champion and Long Island champion.
Among two of the best players for the Lady Vikings were seventh-grader Thea Rabman and eighth-grader Martine McGowan. It is rare for middle school students to play varsity high school sports, and rarer still for those middle schoolers to dominate their high school competition. But that is exactly what Rabman and McGowan did, teaming up to become the doubles champion for Nassau County and finishing fourth in the state.
But Helfner said the team’s success was a credit to each of the players.
“There was no single person carrying the team,” he said. “It is a fall family that we have, and credit to the girls because they’ve done everything I’ve asked of them and more. It’s a real special honor to coach them and I’m proud they get to experience this success.”
Helfner and the team were honored on May 2 at the 28th annual US Tennis Association Long Island Region awards dinner. The Team of the Year award is given to a public or private high school that exemplifies sportsmanship and encourages the growth of the game.
“It’s always nice to be recognized by your peers for your hard work, especially on Long Island where there are so many talented people,” Helfner said of winning the award. “But the most rewarding thing was seeing the joy and happiness of the girls when they succeeded.”