Local tennis community mourns and remembers Roslyn players killed in accident

Local tennis community mourns and remembers Roslyn players killed in accident
Roslyn varsity tennis player Drew Hassenbein, shown here in a match last season, was one of two kids killed in a drunk-driving accident Wednesday night. (Photo credit: Long Island Tennis Magazine)

Aaron Raja came off the tennis court on Monday befuddled and kind of amazed.

His coach at The Wheatley School, Herman Lim, wasn’t used to seeing his top singles player like this. Raja is a solid player, always able to hang in rallies and find a way to win. But he’d just been steamrolled by an eighth-grader from Roslyn.

And as he walked over to Lim, Raja tried to explain his confusion.

“Aaron says ‘Coach, he knew what I was going to do before I did it, before I knew what I was going to do,” Lim recalled Thursday night. “That’s never happened before.’”

Aaron Raja had just had the unfortunate experience of playing the phenom that was Drew Hassenbein.

Formerly the No.1 ranked player in the entire United States in the 12 and under division, Hassenbein was the top singles player for Roslyn High School as a seventh-grader, and again this year, and dominated almost all foes with his consistency and indomitable will.

Tragically, Hassenbein and teammate Ethan Falkowitz, also 14 years old, were killed by an alleged drunk driver Wednesday night in Jericho.

Two beautiful tennis players’ lives ended in an instant, and the grieving among the Nassau County tennis community was deep and intense Wednesday.

Ethan Falkowitz (Photo provided by Christopher Morley Tennis

Two other Roslyn tennis players were also in the car: Senior Zach Sheena, who played throughout the lineup, and sophomore Ethan Solop, who was the No. 2 singles player, both survived the crash and are in stable condition at the hospital.

Zach Sheena (Photo provided by Long Island Tennis Magazine )
Ethan Solop (Photo provided by Long Island Tennis Magazine)

The sport of tennis may be an individual one, but it’s small enough that everyone involved feels like family.

Players face off at high school matches, in USTA Tournaments, and at camps, making this loss feel so painful.

“It was a very hard day to get through, really tough for everyone in our program,” said Port Washington Schreiber head tennis coach Shane Helfner.  “Our kids were heartbroken. We play (Roslyn) all the time. The kids all know each other, a lot of them went to sleepaway camp with Ethan and Drew. I reached out to the guys on the team and told them to come down and talk; a lot of the guys needed to vent and cry together. It felt a little easier knowing we were all together, just sitting there in our band room, talking it out.”

Lim said his Wheatley players were given access to guidance counselors at the school and that he himself broke down several times and had to leave school early Thursday.

“A lot of our kids train at Christopher Morley (where Falkowitz trained) or Sportime Roslyn (Hassenbein’s home facility) and they were devastated,” Lim said.

Hassenbein was the more familiar player to the area, having played junior tournaments since he was very young, and garnering trophy after trophy. In 2021 he was chosen by USTA Eastern’s Neil Thakur for the honor of tossing the coin before the U.S. Open men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev.

Jumping up to varsity as a seventh-grader, Hassenbein led Roslyn to its first county championship in 15 years last spring.

“He was a humble kid who wasn’t a showboater, but he had such a big game,” Lim said. “He went about his business in a professional way, and I think he played so many matches and tournaments that he did know exactly what an opponent would hit before they hit it, because of what Drew had just hit.”

Great Neck South coach Joshua Dugan, who coached against Hassenbein for two seasons, said he was a friend of the Hassenbein family and that Wednesday hit his team hard.

“Each kid was processing it in their own way when we met with them,” Dugan said. “We had an optional practice today; a few kids wanted to get their grief out by hitting a tennis ball, which was totally understandable. That’s what they’re used to doing after school.”

Dugan marveled at Hassenbein’s skills despite being a shade over five feet tall.

“Drew had so much determination to never give up, never back down, he never got intimidated on the court,” Dugan said.

“When he came up, I remember hearing about this kid Drew and how talented he was,” Helfner said. “Then you saw him, and he was tiny but he hit the ball so nicely. And you could tell the other kids looked up to him, already.”

Falkowitz, whose father Gary played college tennis at Brandeis, joined the varsity team this spring, playing mostly doubles for the Bulldogs and had an immediate impact in helping Roslyn win matches.

“He was a very good player, very solid and versatile at the net,” Lim said. “He and his partner surgically took our guys apart, really playing smart tennis.”

Falkowitz’s coach at Christopher Morley Tennis, Saloman Levy, remembered him as a unique student and player. Levy said he taught Falkowitz for five years and became friendly with his dad, Gary Falkowitz, a former college tennis player at Brandeis.

“I think he taught me more than I taught him,” Levy said of Ethan. “He was very talented, not just in tennis: he was a great student. He always wanted to know more than just what I was teaching him, he wanted to know why he should do it that way, so he could understand better.

“It was a privilege to get to coach a kid like that.”

Levy, who became close with the Falkowitz family and attended Ethan’s bar mitzvah last year, added that Falkowitz had recently become more interested in playing tournaments like his best friend Drew did and that making the Roslyn varsity team this spring “was a very big thrill for him.”

“I saw him Tuesday night and everything was normal and great, and when we were done he said ‘Thank you for the lesson, coach,’” Levy said, becoming emotional. “We were supposed to have a lesson last night (Thursday) and I was at the courts waiting for him.

“This is not how life is supposed to go.”

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  1. Beautiful tribute to those 2 amazing boys! A horrible tragedy! Thank you for sharing their short-lived lives with us!

  2. Thank you for a beautiful, thoughtful and well written article about these two special souls. Our community is devastated and mourning this huge and unimaginable loss together. These were the greatest kids who were loved and admired by all who were fortunate to know them. May their memory be for a blessing and may they rest in peace.
    DON’T DRINK OR DRUG AND DRIVE! It destroys lives!

  3. So very sorry for these two beautiful families that raised these two terrific boys. My heart hurts for them. May god give them the strength to get through this horrific tragedy .


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