Girls Tennis Nets The Love With Team, Coach Of The Year Honors

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Back Row: Emilio Sanchez, former tennis professional, three-time Grand Slam winner and Olympic silver medalist for Spain; Liezel Huber, South African-American former tennis professional; Shane Helfner, Port Washington High School Girls Tennis Coach; Jenny Schnitzer, USTA Eastern Section Executive Director, and Jonathan Klee, USTA Long Island Region President. Front Row: Tiffany McGowan, Theadora Rabman, Ada Amaraghioalei and Martine McGowan. (Photo by Long Island Tennis Magazine)

The Port Washington girls varsity tennis team was recently named Long Island High School Tennis Team of the Year, while the team’s head coach, Shane Helfner, was named Nassau County Coach of the Year. The Lady Vikings and Helfner were honored at the 28th annual US Tennis Association Long Island Region Awards dinner on May 2 for their success as a team after finishing the 2017 season with a record of 17-1, becoming Conference 1 Champions, Nassau County Champions and Long Island Champions.

“We had a really amazing year,” said Helfner. “The girls not only worked hard, but they’re just really good people. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer group of girls.”

The High School Team of the Year is an award given to a public or private high school on Long Island that exemplifies sportsmanship and encourages the growth of the game by ensuring that young players experience the fun of representing their school tennis teams and participating in community service events. But it probably didn’t hurt that the team consisting of one seventh-grader, one eighth-grader and mostly freshmen and sophomores won 17 matches in a row throughout their season, bringing them to both the Nassau County Championship and the Long Island Championship. At the Nassau County Championship, the girls defeated Roslyn 6-1 and later defeated Ward Melville at the Long Island Championship 5-2.

“We lost the first match of the year against Great Neck and then we just kind of gained confidence and got on a win streak,” said Helfner. “We would perfect everything we could in practices. Our conference is ability based and we’re in Conference 1, so there’s never really an easy match. Every match is a grind and it’s really hard when you’re on a winning streak. You feel like you may have one bad day and lose it, but they kept going. For many of them—pretty much all the girls— it was the first championship they experienced and their joy and reaction to the end reward of their hard work is the best feeling.”

The team also had the Nassau County Doubles Champions both seventh grader Thea Rabman and eighth grader Martine McGowan. At the All-State tournament, the two girls came in fourth place out of the entire state.

“The future is definitely bright,” said Helfner. “We have such a young team and more young girls are coming up. Hopefully this is a little dynasty for the next couple of years.”

In addition to showing their talents on the court, the team understands the importance of giving back to the community. The girls ran a free tennis clinic for the community and their annual Breast Cancer Awareness Play with the Teachers Event, in which each team member asks a teacher to form a doubles team. Students watched their teachers play and money collected from raffle sales at the event were donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

As for Helfner, this is his sixth or seventh time being named Coach of the Year throughout his entire coaching career, including his time coaching for Commack.

“It’s always nice,” he said. “It’s lauded by the other coaches, which is nice to be recognized by my peers.”

Helfner explained that the most rewarding part about being a coach is “seeing the girls succeed. The girls love being with each other and it makes me happy they enjoy each others company.”

What did you think of this article? Share your thoughts with me by email at cclaus@antonmediagroup.com.

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Christina Claus is a reporter for Anton Media Group and a regular contributor to Long Island Weekly and Anton's magazines.

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