By Michael J. Lewis
For several years now, Roslyn boys tennis coach Kerri Jannotte-Hinckley could feel her team getting closer to the top.
Matches against rivals like Cold Spring Harbor and Syosset were no longer 7-0 blowouts; now the Bulldogs were falling 5-2 and 4-3, proving that the gap was narrowing.
She believed her kids could win these matches. What was lacking? Their belief in themselves.
“There were a few years where we got close and we knew that a close loss was nothing to be ashamed of,” Jannotte-Hinckley said before practice recently. “But I’m not sure they thought we could actually win these matches. But this year, these kids started to see it, and visualize it, and it became real.”
It most certainly become real on May 25, when Roslyn thumped defending Nassau champ Syosset, 5-2, to win its first county championship in at least 15 years.
Led by a delightful mix of middle-schoolers and veteran high-school aged players, the Bulldogs vanquished a rival and gave their longtime coach a sought-after crown.
“We most definitely wanted to get her the title she deserved, that was one big part of it,” said junior and No. 3 singles player Gavin Koo. “But it was also just the cap of a great season, knowing how much we all wanted to beat Syosset and finally win.”
The Bulldogs, who had split two matches with Syosset in the regular season, have the youngest team they’ve had under Jannotte-Hinckley, with 7th and 8th graders making up 25 percent of the roster.
That youth brigade is led by seventh-grader Drew Hassenbein, who has dominated at No. 1 singles. Filling the large hole left by last year’s No.1, Mikey Weitz, now at Division I Colgate, Hassenbein defeated rival Ansh Chadha in the county title match.
Hassenbein, who in March was the No. 6 rated player in America in the 12 and under division of the USTA rankings, has bonded with the team exceptionally well. Recently the whole squad went to his bar mitzvah, junior Gavin Koo said, “and it was so much fun. Very cool that he invited us all to that.”
“I was very comfortable right from the start, knowing kids like Ethan (No. 2 singles player Ethan Solop) and a few of the other kids,” Hassenbein said. “Team tennis, it’s a lot of fun, just sometimes being on the court next to Ethan and him giving me high-fives during the match, that’s definitely different from tournaments I usually play. It’s been great.”
“We knew Drew was going to be great, but I didn’t know he was going to be this dominant,” Jannotte-Hinckley said. “He has a wide variety of shots, he takes control of the points, and even though some of these opponents are twice the size of him, he never gets rattled for too long, and he hangs in there and moves the ball wherever he wants.
“And just having him at No.1,” Jannotte-Hinckley continued, “made the whole lineup stronger.”
Solop, a freshman who was on the team last season as well, said a big key for younger players like him was getting more mature at playing big matches.
“I have played a lot of matches now and had to deal with a lot of different situations, so things seem a lot simpler now when there are problems on the court,” Solop said.
The Bulldogs faced Suffolk County rival Commack on Monday, June 6th, and lost a squeaker, 4-3, in the Long Island championship for large schools.
Solop, the first doubles tandem of Koo and Matt Stone, and second doubles duo Cayden Shen and Bartek Dziedziach all scored wins for Roslyn in the match.
“We accomplished our first goal, and that was the big thing, but you always want to keep playing,” said senior second doubles player Matt Stone said. “As a senior, playing in the state tournament, there’s nothing better.”