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Vol. LXII, No. 21
 
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
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SURVIVAL TEST: Princeton High boys’ tennis singles star Matt Ullmann hits a forehand last Thursday in his 4-6, 6-4, 5-2 (injury default) win over WW/P-N’s Tim Wu which clinched PHS’ 3-2 win in the Central Jersey Group III sectional semifinals. The top-seeded Little Tigers went on to top No. 2 Ocean 3.5 -1.5 last Monday in the sectional championship match. PHS will go for the state Group III title on May 22 at Mercer County Park. The Little Tigers will face Millburn High in the semifinals at 11 a.m. with the victor advancing to the title match that afternoon.

Saved by Ullmann’s Gutsy Rally in Semifinals, PHS Boys’ Tennis Achieves Sectional Crown

Bill Alden

Although Matt Ullmann plays first singles for the Princeton High boys’ tennis team, he didn’t expect to play a pivotal role as the Little Tigers hosted WW/P-N last Thursday in the Central Jersey Group III sectional semifinals.

In the regular season meeting between the teams, Ullmann had lost to his counterpart Tim Wu but PHS still prevailed 3-2.

But after Ullmann dropped the first set 6-4 in the sectional match for top-seeded PHS, he learned that fifth-seeded WW/P-N was winning the two doubles matches and that he had been thrust into the leading role for the Little Tigers.

“I was actually counting on my match not being too important,” said Ullmann.

“Our first doubles are generally incredibly solid; when they lost the first set I got a little nervous. I realized that I had to buckle down and focus.”

PHS did lose the doubles matches as Ari Silver and Ben Weingarten fell at first doubles and the pair of Aaron Wishnick and David Zheng dropped their match at No. 2.

In the wake of those setbacks, Ullmann displayed his focus, taking the second set 6-4.

By the time, Ullmann was in the third set of his marathon with Wu, he knew that the teams were tied at 2-2 as PHS sophomore Kevin Cen had won at second singles and senior David Zheng had rallied to win at third singles.

As Ullmann’s match headed toward the three-hour mark, he could feel that Wu was on his heels.

“I was going for less in the second and third sets; playing consistently actually worked out much better,” recalled Ullmann.

“The second set was really back and forth until I broke it open at the end; that gave me a real mental edge going into the final set. Tim is always in great shape, he is always moving. When I saw him not moving before the points, I realized I had him on the ropes.”

With the players together with parents and students lining the fence around the court, Ullmann applied the knockout blow, building a 5-2 lead before Wu defaulted due to repeated cramping in his right leg.

For Ullmann, winning his final match on the PHS court was a special feeling.

“It would have been really, really disappointing to lose like this,” said Ullmann. “I was glad I could finish it for my team.”

On Monday, PHS finished the sectionals in style, topping second-seeded Ocean 3.5-1.5 to earn a spot in the Group III Final Four on May 22 at Mercer County Park. The Little Tigers, now 18-1, will play Millburn High in the group semis at 11 a.m. with the winner advancing to the championship match later that day.

PHS head coach Sarah Heyman knows that her team wouldn’t be alive for a state championship had it not been for Ullmann’s courageous effort.

“I think that Matt really picked up the slack today for the rest of the team,” asserted Heyman, noting that Ullmann had struggled with an injury in his regular-season loss to Wu.

“He wasn’t feeling well earlier in the week and he still managed to play through a tough match. He played through the same three sets that Tim did. It just came down to he was better prepared; he really rose to the occasion.”

Ullmann’s classmate, Zheng, also rose to the occasion as he rallied.

“David again had a rough first set; he was up and had a couple of opportunities slip away from him,” added Heyman.

“I was proud of the way he managed to regain control and he came back really strong in the second set. Then as the third set started to get close, he was able to really to focus in and close it out and at least tie us up and give us a chance to win.”

Heyman said that her senior singles players showed a special sense of urgency as they came through in the win over WW/P-N.

“I think that all of a sudden we realized that our chances were slipping away and that if everyone didn’t focus in now, there was a good chance we would go out in a disappointing upset,” said Heyman.

“North is a very good team and they really showed that they wanted it today. Their doubles played very well, all their players fought and pushed our players. Luckily we were able to come out and rise to the occasion at the end there.”

In Heyman’s view, surviving such a test should make her players tougher minded on the court.

“I really hope that they can use the near ousting today to really focus in and realize that nothing is guaranteed until the last ball lands,” said Heyman. “Hopefully they can take some momentum into that.”

Ullmann, for his part, believes that the nailbiter will help PHS as it pursues the state crown.

“Whenever you survive a test early it opens your eyes, you have a tendency to get complacent playing teams that you don’t expect to push you to your highest,” said Ullmann.

“It was definitely an eye opener; we are not going to take anything as lightly as we did.”

And with a gritty player like Ullmann at first singles, nobody can take PHS lightly.

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