(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
FIFTH DIMENSION: Members of the Hun School girls tennis team are all smiles after the squad captured its fifth straight Mercer County Tournament (MCT) team title last Wednesday at Mercer County Park. Pictured from left are Rob Solonick (manager), Hillary Drewry, Lauren Latella, Nora Saunders, Lucy DiPastina, Alex Connell, Anna Wiinberg, Caitie Druker, and head coach Joan Nuse.
Reshuffled Lineup Displays Competitive Fire As Hun Girls' Tennis Takes 5th Straight MCT
By Bill Alden
Aiming for its fifth straight Mercer County Tournament (MCT) team title, the Hun School girls tennis team entered the final day of the competition last week locked in a three-way tie for first with Notre Dame and Stuart.
Having lost top singles player Angela DiPastina to graduation and working three new faces into its lineup, there was no certainty that Hun would keep its streak alive.
But showing that its reshuffled crew possesses the same competitive mettle as past teams, Hun rolled to the crown last Wednesday at Mercer County Park, scoring 32 points with Notre Dame and Stuart tying for second with 21 points apiece.
Individual winners for Hun included sophomore transfer Hillary Drewry at second singles and seasoned junior Catie Druker at third singles, who both produced straight-set wins in their title matches.
The Raiders swept the doubles as the No. 1 pair of Alex Connell and Anna Wiinberg posted a 6-0, 6-0 rout of PHS' Julie Syzmaniak and Anna Pang in the finals while the second doubles team of Nora Saunders and Lauren Latella bested Catherine Debassio and Christina Lupacchino of Notre Dame 6-2, 6-3 in their championship match.
For Hun head coach Joan Nuse, knowing that a fifth title wasn't a sure thing made it all the more sweeter.
"We definitely could've been knocked off," said a smiling Nuse. "We didn't know how good the other teams were. It's kind of amazing. Five in a row is definitely sweet especially since we showed we could win without Angela. We didn't talk about the pressure to repeat, we just went out and played. The kids went out and did the best they could and it was good enough."
Nuse acknowledged that she had plenty of talent on hand even with DiPastina now at Ohio State.
"I thought we were pretty deep so I thought we had a pretty good shot," said Nuse. "You just never know how things are going to match up. I'm really proud of how the girls played."
Hun's singles winners Drewry and Druker certainly made Nuse proud. "Hilary has fit in wonderfully," added Nuse, referring to the transfer from Hopewell Valley.
"She has gotten used to us. I think that she played really well. Her semifinal match was tough and the finals were tough as well and she came through with flying colors. Caitie is coming back from an injury. She's definitely solid but she has to deal with the fact that she can't totally extend yet."
The Hun doubles teams came together nicely with Ridge transfer Wiinberg blending well with Connell and senior leader Saunders helping to ease the transition for Latella, a junior varsity player last season.
"Alex and Anna have just meshed," said Nuse. "I saw that during the preseason, I thought that would be a really nice pairing. I don't know how Anna and Alex can do much better than they did in the finals today. I think that in terms of second doubles, Nora has the experience. She's really been able to help Lauren adjust. Nora is really good at helping her out and I think that's been great."
Saunders, for her part, believes that the team's chemistry has played a major role in its success. "We're all getting along so well," said Saunders, noting that first singles player Lucy DiPastina lended support and guidance to her teammates after getting knocked out of the MCT in the first round.
"This Friday we're having a team sleepover at my house. We have no problems; we don't fight on the court. The new kids have fit in."
For Saunders, bonding with Latella has certainly not been a problem. "Last year she played singles on JV and that's what I had done when I moved up to varsity," said Saunders.
"We're playing really well together. The four matches we had here should really help us. We know where each other are on the court and stuff like that. It's coming together. Hopefully, we'll play the rest of the season like we did the last two days."
With the MCT title in hand, Hun is on course for its season goal of accomplishing its third straight triple, a sweep of the county, state Prep A, and Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) titles.
"The MAPL is going to be really tough," asserted Nuse, whose club topped Lawrence 5-0 last Monday to improve to 6-0 in dual matches and plays at Montclair Kimberley on October 6 before hosting Lawrenceville on October 8 and Princeton Day School on October 10.
"Lawrenceville has some good players; Blair was solid last year and is solid again this year. We'll definitely have to work to get it. Hopefully we'll be able to do it with our depth. That's our strength, we do it with depth."
With the depth of talent and character that Hun displayed last week at the MCT, the Raiders have a strong chance of accomplishing their goal.