The sun was setting behind the trees ringing the tennis courts at Mercer County Park last Wednesday but the Princeton High girls’ tennis team battled on as it faced Mendham in the Group 3 state championship match.
Trailing 2-1, PHS needed to win both doubles matches to pull out the title. Showing resolve, the Little Tigers forced a third set in each match.
PHS’s hopes for a title, though, faded into the evening twilight as the first doubles team of Maddie Cahill-Sanidas and Rory Lewis fell 6-2 in the third set to Veronica Fojtu and Lauren Hernandez.
While PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert was disappointed by the final result, she savored what her team had accomplished this fall.
“This whole year has been icing on the cake because we weren’t expecting much after graduating six seniors,” said Hibbert, whose team moved to 17-1 with the loss to Mendham.
“To not only win back-to-back sectional titles but to win the state semifinals and make the group final for the first time since 1999 was an amazing thing with this many new players.”
PHS certainly did something great earlier in the day in the state semis as it edged Moorestown 3-2 in a nailbiter that saw three matches decided by tiebreakers.
“It was an amazing match this morning,” said Hibbert, who got a win from freshman Christina Rosca at first singles in the victory over Moorestown with Cahill-Sanidas and Lewis prevailing at first doubles and the second doubles team of Lindsay Eberhart and Allison Hubert clinching the match by winning their tiebreaker.
“We didn’t start off well in a few flights but we were able to fight back and keep cool under pressure. We did a really good job of staying tight under pressure; playing aggressively and playing clutch tennis.”
The doubles team of Cahill-Sanidas and Lewis played aggressively against Mendham, winning the first set 7-6. The PHS pair, though, lost the second set 6-2 and then ran out of gas as Mendham went on to win the third set.
“Their first doubles team was the runner-up in the whole state tournament and we fought hard against them,” said Hibbert. “We lost a really, really close match that absolutely could have gone either way.”
The Little Tigers have been fighting hard for weeks as they lost freshman second singles star Chenchen Wang to a season-ending knee injury days before the start of the Mercer County Tournament.
“Losing our No. 2 player right before counties and states was tough,” said Hibbert.
“We all had to reshuffle and shift our lineup a little bit. The girls all came together and worked really hard. They rose to the occasion and they raised the level of their game. They were not just playing for themselves; they were playing for Chenchen.
The team’s seniors, Cahill-Sanidas and Eberhart, played a key role in holding the team together through adversity.
“They have been great this year,” asserted Hibbert. “They have really kept the girls focused. They helped everyone feel a part of the team; they have done a lot of team bonding exercises and activities. It is nice that they have all meshed so well. They have really had a great season.”
With five of its top seven players slated to return, there should be some great things ahead for PHS.
“Hopefully, it bodes well for the future,” said Hibbert. “If we have everyone healthy, we can do some great things. We were so close today, it didn’t happen but I am really proud of the way they fought.”