Former Rockville Centre resident Claire Handa, a freshman at the University of Chicago, was named Female Rookie of the Year for her standout tennis season.
Handa, the top singles player at Friends Academy High School in Glen Cove during her senior year, made a smooth transition to the college game. In addition to being selected as the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Female Rookie of the Year in the central region, she was a First Team All-University Athletic Association pick at both No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles.
She won the ITA Central Region singles title and placed fourth in the ITA Oracle Cup singles bracket, finishing the year with a 22-7 singles record and a doubles record of 18-10. Her team had a 19-5 record, qualifying for the NCAA tournament before getting defeated by No. 1-seeded Emory College.
“It doesn’t even surprise me,” Gino Uterano, Handa’s high school coach, said of her college success. Despite injuring her anterior cruciate ligament in her knee during her sophomore year and not playing for the team until her senior year, Handa was the team’s No. 1 singles player. “You’d love to have a tennis team with six or seven of her,” Uterano said. She went on to lead the team to win the Nassau County and Long Island championships in 2016.
Handa thought she would have to pay her dues at UC by playing top doubles or low singles, according to Uterano, yet she has already solidified herself as a top singles player. “She’s just a solid citizen you can build a tennis team around,” he said. “We miss her.”
Her mother, Gloria Handa, added, “She’s had quite the year.” She always had a good feeling about her daughter’s tennis talent, she said, recalling how Claire used to play at Rockville Racket in Rockville Centre — where the Avalon apartment complex now is — and how colleges wanted her for her athleticism. “She’s the kind of person who will do her best wherever she goes,” Gloria said, adding how modest her daughter is. Handa selected the University of Chicago, a Division III school, over some Division I choices.
Handa will be back in Rockville Centre after her semester ends this month, and is set to intern for the Department of Justice in Manhattan. It is not yet clear whether she will pursue law or tennis after college, Gloria said. Handa did not wish to comment for the story.
“She wants to see how far she can go [with tennis],” she added, “but it will always be a part of her life.”