At around 11 on Thursday morning, the players on the Princeton High girls’ tennis team were all smiles as they gathered together after beating Chatham 3.5-1.5 in the state Group III semifinals.
But about three and a half hours later, the players were glumly lined up on a fence at the Mercer County Park tennis complex as they watched Katelyn Hojelbane fall at third singles to wrap up a 4-1 defeat to Montville in the Group III championship match.
PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert acknowledged that things went awry in the afternoon after the semifinal victory.
“We fought hard, we tried but unfortunately we didn’t play as well this afternoon as we did this morning,” said Hibbert, whose team moved to 16-1 with the defeat to Montville.
“I don’t know if it was being a little bit tired or a carryover from the excitement this morning. We weren’t quite able to get the level back up again. Credit them, they came out and played well. Unfortunately we just weren’t able to rise to the challenge this time.”
The win over Chatham did require PHS to expend a lot of energy, mentally and physically.
“We had a great match this morning, that was a very tough team,” said Hibbert.
“It was really exciting for the girls to move on to the final. The girls really fought hard. I am proud of the way everyone played. They knew they would have to work hard and everyone did and they put us in position to get to the final.”
It was exciting for Hibbert to see her sophomore star Christina Rosca win the state singles title on Wednesday and then post victories in both of her matches on Thursday.
“Chris won yesterday and was able to come back and win both of her matches today,” said Hibbert. “So she won three matches in less than 24 hours so that is pretty good going for her, especially at this level of competition.”
PHS has shown it can compete at the highest level as it has advanced to the state final two straight years.
“Being in the group final is certainly a great accomplishment, there are a lot of tough teams in this group,” said Hibbert.
“We were hoping that last year we would learn from our really close loss in the final for this year. Unfortunately it wasn’t able to happen.”
In Hibbert’s view, the group of players she has assembled could make that happen.
“We do have a young team; we only have one senior [doubles player Allison Hubert],” said Hibbert.
“It looks good for the future. We’ll keep trying. We are getting closer and hopefully next year, we’ll win it.”