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Vol. LXV, No. 39
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
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BURNING ASCH: Princeton Day School girls’ tennis star Samantha Asch belts a backhand in action last season. Last week, Asch breezed to the title at first singles at the Mercer County Tournament. The junior star didn’t lose a set as she won her second straight first singles crown and third MCT title overall. Asch’s heroics helped PDS win the MCT title.

With Asch Dominating Again at First Singles, PDS Girls’ Tennis Ekes Out MCT Team Title

Bill Alden

When the Mercer County Tournament girls’ team tennis title was finally theirs last Wednesday afternoon, the members of the Princeton Day School girls’ tennis team joyously high-fived each other one by one.

That impromptu celebration on a hill near the stadium court at Mercer County Park marked the end of a white-knuckle ride which saw PDS edge rival Princeton High by one point, 17.5-16.5.

The title wasn’t decided until PDS’s Mary Atkeson picked up a half point for winning third place at third singles and the PHS first and second doubles teams each fell in MCT title matches.

In the view of first-year PDS head coach Ed Tseng, his players got to enjoy their moment of triumph as a result of living in the moment over the two days of competition.

“The turning point was just giving full effort in every match,” said Tseng, reflecting on what made the difference as the program won its first MCT team title.

“When you put too much focus on results and point totals and things like that you are out of the moment. When you stay in the moment and focus on one match at a time, one point at a time, good things happen.”

In taking over the PDS program from Patty Headley, Tseng has focused on sharpening his players’ mindset on the court.

“I tell the players to control the process and control their effort,” said Tseng.

“I tell players this is the most important match of your life but it is only tennis. If you are a little loose, that leads to peak performance.”

The PDS players have been open to Tseng’s message. “I think the girls have taken it on; I hear them quoting me sometimes,” said Tseng with a laugh.

“We had skits at PDS over fall weekend and one of them played me and my wife said they were right on. They listen; the kids are smart. I try to do my best but I can’t play for them; I give them credit.”

PDS junior star Samantha Asch played better than anybody at the MCT, breezing to her second consecutive crown at first singles, winning each match in straight sets, including a 6-0, 6-1 win over Sneha Rangu of Highstown in the title contest.

In assessing her performance in the title match, Asch reflected the philosophy of her new coach.

“I didn’t really come in with a specific strategy,” said Asch, who won the MCT title at second singles as a freshman.

“I just focused on getting prepared early and moving her around and the rest fell into place.”

While Asch knew there was a bull’s eye on her back as the defending champion and top-seeded player, she wasn’t fazed.

“I wasn’t worried about it but it is obviously there,” said Asch, who plays in national tournaments throughout the summer and has been ranked in the top 15 among high school juniors. “I just focused on what I had to do.”

Asch’s focus is the product of keeping her nose to the grindstone year-round when it comes to her tennis.

“It reflects all the hard work I have put in,” added Asch, who estimates that she trains four hours a day in the summer when not playing in tournaments.

“After I come off a hard loss, I always try to bounce right back and come back even harder. I want to come back and practice even harder. I have gotten bigger so my serve has gotten better. I have just tried to clean everything up and cut down on unforced errors.”

For Asch, seeing the team do well is a big deal. “We came in the season having lost a bunch of valuable seniors so we didn’t really come in expecting much,” said Asch.

“We have practiced really hard and everyone is coming in with their game face on and playing well. Our freshman, Emily Dyckman and Hope Boozan, are doing a great job at first doubles.”

Tseng, for his part, certainly expected Asch to do a great job at the MCT. “It is very comforting to have her but nothing is a guarantee,” said Tseng.

“What if she gets injured. I am definitely confident with her abilities but even though she won fairly easily, there are still things to work on. That’s the goal, nobody is perfect. If Serena Williams doesn’t make every shot, nobody is going to.”

PDS got good work at second singles from junior Nicole Keim, who took second in her flight, losing a tough three-setter in the final match against Harinee Suthakar of WW/P-N after topping Keely Herring of PHS 6-1, 6-1 in the semis.

“Every point was critical, Nicole played a great semifinal today,” added Tseng, whose first doubles team of Dyckman and Boozan took fourth in their flight.

“I am just proud of everyone giving a full effort and not giving up. They all lead by example.”

Tseng is proud to have guided PDS to a county crown in his debut season.

“Obviously this is great and that is the goal but I don’t look too much at results,” added Tseng, whose team fell 4-1 to Lawrenceville last Monday in regular season action and plays at Pingry on October 1.

“Don’t get me wrong, I want to win in a major way but at the same time I know when you put too much pressure on those results, you won’t get them. I am pleased with the team, the coaches, the PDS community. Winning is a byproduct of the process.”

A process that led to a hard-earned title for the Panthers.

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