Although the Princeton High boys’ tennis team was seeded third in the state Group III Central Jersey sectional tourney, PHS proved it was a championship caliber squad.
The Little Tigers defeated top-seeded Hopewell Valley 4-1 in a regular season match made up during the tournament and then fell 3-2 to second-seeded and eventual champion Wall Township in a sectional semi that came down to the third set of the second doubles flight.
PHS head coach Christian Herzog was proud of the way his team battled in the loss with Wall, getting wins at third singles from junior Adib Zaidi and at first doubles from the pair of senior Zach Hojelbane and sophomore Lucas Mitchell.
“It was a close match,” said Herzog. “Adib had a really big match; he muscled through some illness and beat an intimidating player. The guys with Wall play with a lot of passion, they are loud and boisterous on the court. My guys knew that going into the match. Our first doubles crushed them.”
With PHS standing at 13-3 after a 5-0 win over Steinert last Wednesday, Herzog is happy with the way his guys have played this spring.
“I think we responded well to our situation in the county tournament,” said Herzog, whose team competed at the county tournament without an injured Zaidi and still finished fourth.
“We won the matches we were expected to win. No one expects us to beat South (WW/P-S). If we had Tyler (second singles player Tyler Hack), I think we could have beaten North (WW/P-N).”
Herzog credited seniors Zack Kleiman and Hojelbane with providing the veteran guidance he expected from them.
“They were strong leaders in terms of keeping the team motivated and focused,” said Herzog.
“They were able to have a good time and some laughs and then bear down and be serious when necessary. They were class acts and good kids.”
Kleiman helped the team bear down before its match against HoVal. “Kleiman gave a heartfelt talk, explaining why that rivalry was important,” recalled Herzog.
“He talked about how it had been going back and forth the last few years and they hadn’t always given us respect. I said that I didn’t have anything to add, he said it all. We went out and beat them 4-1; I was disappointed that we didn’t win 5-0.”
With most of its starting lineup returning, PHS is in position to add to its winning tradition.
“We have five of seven coming back and Andrew Lin was a varsity swing player and competed in MCT and played five or six matches,” said Herzog.
Herzog, for his part, enjoyed getting the team to compete its hardest in his first season at the helm of the team.
“You have to have vision for the whole program,” said Herzog. “You have
to keep the varsity players consistent and help
them get through the big matches.”