Lucas Mitchell got a big surprise last Tuesday when he arrived to compete for the Princeton High boys’ tennis team in the opening day of the Mercer County Tournament.
Having played first doubles all spring for PHS, sophomore Mitchell learned that he was going to be playing third singles at the MCT.
“I was supposed to play doubles but Adib (Zaidi) had a neck sprain so he couldn’t come so we had to make a last minute change in the morning,” said Mitchell.
Unfazed by the last minute change in plans, Mitchell was ready for the opportunity to move up in the Little Tiger lineup.
“I was actually excited,” said Mitchell. “I like to be challenged.”
Mitchell proved up to the challenge as he won three matches to advance to the semifinals.
“I did like the way I played on Tuesday, I thought I was pretty consistent,” said Mitchell.
In the final day of the tourney, Mitchell fell to eventual champion Kabir Sarita of WW/P-S in the semis before winning the third-place match with a hard-earned 7-5, 7-6 victory over Patrick Blake of Hopewell Valley.
In reflecting on the third place finish, Mitchell acknowledged that he had to gut things out.
“That was a really close match, there were a few times when I almost had given up mentally and I just hung in there,” said Mitchell.
“In the end it just came down to a few points. I made an overhead shot and that was it.”
Noting that he has played a lot of singles over the years, Mitchell’s improved net game helped him come through last week.
“I feel more aggressive and I feel more confident, so I know that I could go into the net more,” said Mitchell.
PHS head coach Christian Herzog liked the aggressiveness he saw from all of his players at the MCT as the Little Tigers placed fourth in the team competition won by WW/P-S.
“I was impressed with the boys’ performance, especially considering that it wasn’t our original lineup,” said Herzog. “We talked about going for every ball and every point of the match.”
The first doubles pair of Zach Hojelbane and Zack Kleiman took third but had Herzog going a little batty.
“It looked like they were taking it easy a little too much; it was making me stress out,” said a smiling Herzog. “We joke that sometimes they like to get down to bring out the best in them. They like to make the match harder than it has to be.”
At second doubles, Andrew Lin got called up from the JV and acquitted himself well, playing with Andrew Wei.
“Andrew Lin stepped up and they ended up fourth,” said Herzog. “They took the first set and then had a little bit of a meltdown but that goes to experience. We had a guy that was on the JV and Andrew Wei was the last guy to be cut from the team last year.”
Mitchell was the guy that drew some of the highest praise from Herzog. “I can’t say enough positive things about Lucas; he has really worked hard,” said Herzog, whose team fell 4-1 to WW/P-S last Monday in a dual match to move to 6-1 and will play at WW/P-N on April 30 before hosting Hightstown on May 2 and Nottingham on May 5.
“Even when were doing the ladder in the beginning of the season, it was a really close match between him and Adib. It was a tiebreaker in the third and that’s how Adib beat him out. Lucas’ game is a stronger singles game. He can play doubles. I think he would prefer to play singles but he will do whatever the team needs.”
Mitchell, for his part, believes last week’s experience will help him be a better doubles player over the rest of the spring.
“I will go back to doubles; this has definitely helped my confidence in myself,” said Mitchell.
“Playing first doubles isn’t shabby at all. I feel pretty confident with my partner. Zach (Hojelbane) is a great doubles partner and he is great at the net. He is a real wall, as they say.”