Call 2009 the year of the dynasty in girls’ tennis.
Cardozo won its third straight PSAL Class A crown. St. Francis Prep extended its win streak to 161 matches in a row and claimed its 10th Mayor’s Cup team crown in succession.
Two particularly impressive freshmen – the Judges’ Arielle Griffin and Leon Goldstein’s Becky Shtilkind – stormed onto the scene, making an impact during the team season and in several notable individual tournaments.
Then there was Hannah Berner, the Wisconsin-bound senior who helped the Blue Demons’ boys’ tennis team – the school doesn’t have a girls’ program – to its second straight city title and first Mayor’s cup crown. She also won the Mayor’s Cup individual title herself after losing in the final a year ago.
All-City Girls’ Tennis
Player Of The Year
Hannah Berner, Beacon: She excelled on the boys team and later dominated the girls. She was in the middle of an absurd controversy started by an opposing coach.
Through it all, Hannah Berner never cracked, gaining steam, if anything, as the pressured increased. As a result, she is our girls’ tennis Player of the Year.
Beacon doesn’t have a girls’ tennis program, so Burner – in addition to three other girls – played for the boys’ team. After the Blue Demons edged the Judges, 3-2, May 15 thanks to Berner’s third singles, straight-set victory over Roland John in the PSAL Class A team championships, Cardozo coach Howie Arons sounded off on the topic, saying she shouldn’t be allowed to play. If the best girls at Cardozo were eligible for the boys’ team, Arons said, he would’ve won the city title.
When his words were relayed to her, the Wisconsin-bound Berner shook them off. She went on to help Beacon win its first Mayor’s Cup team crown and knocked off Leighann Sahagun, of Cardozo, in the finals, rallying from a 5-2 deficit in the second set.
“She’s so mentally tough,” Beacon coach Bayard Faithfull said. “She just doesn’t crack.”
It was a memorable year for the even-keeled Berner. There were championships and individual accolades. What made Berner so tough, Sahagun said after the Mayor’s Cup loss, was her unflinching consistency, ability to adjust to her opponent and, of course, the added experience playing against the boys afforded her.
“She’s a fighter,” Sahagun said.
All-City Girls’ Tennis
Coach Of The Year
Neal Baskin, Cardozo: The former baseball coach at Bronx power John F. Kennedy, Baskin doesn’t like to receive any credit for the Judges’ renaissance. Facts are facts: Before his arrival, girls’ tennis was an afterthought at the Bayside school, ceding to Howie Arons’ trophy-collecting boys.
The tables have turned.
Baskin has won the last three PSAL Class A titles and four in five years overall. This spring, in fact, his girls nearly knocked off St. Francis Prep in the Mayor’s Cup team competition, falling, 3-2.
While he has received plenty of talent – none of it his doing, he said – Baskin has also molded the high-end tournament players together. They haven’t grown overconfident, a nod to his grinding approach. The coach deserved at least some of the recognition, even if he doesn’t agree.
All-City Girls’ Tennis
First Team Singles
Arielle Griffin, Cardozo: How much potential does Cardozo coach Neal Baskin see in Griffin? He can envision the day when she overtakes standout sophomore Leighann Sahagun in first singles. The talented freshman enjoyed a memorable first year for the Judges. She went undefeated in second singles, helping Cardozo to its third straight PSAL Class A title. Griffin also made it to the finals of the PSAL individuals and quarterfinals of Mayor’s Cup. “We got a gem,” Baskin said. “She’s a blue-chip player. I was looking for someone to step into the lineup and there she was. It was awesome.”
Veranika Li, Stuyvesant: Li was a paramount in the Lobsters’ third PSAL Class A finals appearance in four years. She lost just three times, twice to Hunter College HS standout Julia Xu and once to Cardozo’s Leighann Sahagun in the final. Li was consistent on the court and just as good off of it, leading her younger, albeit talented, teammates to the A 3 regular-season crown.
Shraddha Prabhu, St. Francis Prep: Prabhu had rather large sneakers to fill this year – those of Shinnan Featherston, who just finished her freshman year at North Carolina. There was no way the junior could equal Featherston’s on-court ability; St. Francis Prep coach John Brennan said Featherston was the best player he has ever coached. Most importantly, Prabhu improved and emerged as the Terriers’ leader, leading them to a 10th straight Mayor’s cup crown and 161st straight team victory.
Eva Raskiewicz, Notre Dame School: The Notre Dame School doesn’t have a tennis team, but that hasn’t stopped Raskiewicz’s progression. She would clearly be a vital asset to anyone’s program, St. Francis Prep included. The consistent ball-striker and relentless competitor is ranked 34th in the USTA Eastern section 18-and-under division and pushed Cardozo sophomore Leighann Sahagun in the semifinals of the Mayor’s Cup individuals, dropping a thrilling three-setter.
Leighann Sahagun, Cardozo: Sahagun took another positive step in her development this spring, going undefeated in her first season at No. 1 singles while leading Cardozo to a third straight PSAL city crown. The powerful baseline specialist knocked off St. Francis Prep’s Shraddha Prabhu in the Mayor’s Cup team finals, nearly orchestrating an end to the Terriers’ 10-year reign atop the city. She also made the finals of the Mayor’s Cup individuals, falling in straight sets to Beacon star senior Hannah Berner, who plays all year with the boys because her school doesn’t have a girls’ team. Next year, Sahagun should be the class of the city. “She definitely has a ton of talent,” Berner said. “She just has to stay focused.”
Becky Shtilkind, Leon Goldstein: There are some who will still pronounce her last name wrong, but that doesn’t mean Shtilkind didn’t leave quite an impression on the local tennis community. As a freshman, she led Goldstein to the A 2 division crown, the PSAL Class A quarterfinals and the school’s first-ever Mayor’s Cup team victory, over Francis Lewis, the team that eliminated the Dolphins in the PSAL team playoffs. Shtilkind, who is ranked 18th in the USTA Eastern section 16-and-under division, also won the PSAL individual crown this spring.
Julia Xu, Hunter College HS: Xu doesn’t like to talk about her many achievements. That’s Ok we’ll do it for her. Her four years at Hunter College HS were nothing short of remarkable, particularly when considering she managed a 94 average at the demanding Manhattan school, is a pianist and Leadership award winner two years running and teaches tennis to young kids. On the court, the Wellesley College-bound Xu went 29-3 in her four years there, leading the Hawks to the playoffs each year, the final three at first singles and won the PSAL’s Wingate award, given to the top senior in each sport. “The girls on the team are really going to miss her,” coach Sandra Miley said. “She’s more than a tennis player.”
All-City Girls’ Tennis
First Team Doubles
Katie Derienzo/Nicole Rydzewski, St. Francis Prep: This is how much talent St. Francis Prep coach John Brennan has compiled – Derienzo and Rydzewski played second doubles, but clearly deserve to be part of this list. The two clinched the Terriers’ 10th consecutive Mayor’s Cup crown, a 3-2 victory over Cardozo. Plus, Derienzo, who is only a freshman, teamed with Lisa Ventimiglia to claim the Mayor’s Cup doubles title.
Samantha Rosca-Sipot/ Kara Uy, St. Francis Prep: Two more reasons the Terriers’ dynasty won’t come to a close anytime soon. Rosca-Sipot is a freshman, Uy a sophomore. The two work well together, but could easily be playing singles next year; so much of St. Francis Prep’s talent is closely bunched together, starting positions are decided in practice, not match play.
Dexuan Yuan/Kim Holmes, Cardozo: So much attention it paid to Cardozo’s dynamic singles players, but the key to the Judges’ success – and the reason the word dynasty is being bandied about – is the program’s doubles’ depth. Yuan and Holmes didn’t lose a league match this season and they may not next spring, either.
Lauren Del Prete, Horace Mann
Brianna Gaskin, Hunter College HS
Bessie Rentzler, Stuyvesant
Gabby Sullivan, Poly Prep
Ashley Masanto, St. Francis Prep
Pauline Syrnik, St. Francis Prep
Alexis Tashiro, Francis Lewis
Minxuan Yuan/Devangana Rashtrawar, Cardozo
Tiffany Wan/Christine Yeoun, Stuyvesant