June 10, 2020

Looking Forward to Unveiling Revamped Lineup, PHS Boys’ Tennis Left Wondering as Season Canceled

SHOW OF SUPPORT: The Parker twins, Dylan, right, and Ethan, celebrate after winning a point in a match last spring for the Princeton High boys’ tennis team. After playing doubles last year, the junior standouts were primed to move up to singles spots in the lineup for the Tigers before the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Parkers and the rest of the squad have been supporting each other virtually as they look to foster team camaraderie in the lost season. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With the lineup of her Princeton High boys’ tennis team getting reshuffled due to graduation losses, Sarah Hibbert wasn’t sure what to expect this spring.

“It would have been interesting to see because we did lose three of our starters from last year’s lineup,” said PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert, who guided the Tigers to an 11-5 campaign in 2019 as they advanced to the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional final.

“We did have a freshman, Jonathan Gu, come in who was going to be playing singles based on the challenge matches we had done in the first couple of days. It looked like the Parker twins, Dylan and Ethan, were also going to be at singles but we had only gotten through one round of challenge matches. That would have given us strength at the top.”

But PHS never got to show its strength as it only got five days on the courts before school was closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-March and weeks later the spring season was formally canceled.

“We had a week of preseason, I had established the team from 48 down to 20 in four days,” said Hibbert.

“In some ways it made it easier because we had established that you guys are the ones that are going to play this season so at the point that we went virtual at least I had set the team so it wasn’t oh like you might have still been cut.”

Initially, Hibbert was hoping that the hiatus from school would only last a few weeks and she gave her players instructions on what to do at home.

“At one point, they said it was going to be two weeks so we were going to have a little break and then come back to it,” said Hibbert.

“On the Thursday before we knew for sure and I was saying ‘boys, I don’t know if I am going to see you tomorrow and I don’t know any more than you do at the moment but stay with it. Keep going out and go out and hit if you can find but obviously be safe, no fist bumps, no contact.’ Tennis is a sport that lends itself to social distancing, you don’t have the contact if you are on the other side of the net. You can use your own tennis balls and pick them up with your racket or your foot.”

But once the season was formally canceled, the PHS players started utilizing other platforms to keep sharp.

“Each team has made their own website so they can go to the tennis website and there is the home page,” said Hibbert, noting that the team watched a video of Rafael Nadal juggling the ball 406 times off the frame of his racket as part of a #Wimbjuggledon challenge and then held their own juggling contest.

“There is the basic stuff about tennis and the stuff they are supposed to be doing. They are supposed to be running two-three times a week, and two-three times a week they are supposed to be doing some racket work exercises against the wall or their garage. There are pages of meditation and pages with comedy, like the funniest Wimbledon moments. It is combination of instructional, educational, fun and enjoyment because this is not what anyone anticipated.”

In addition, the team has been getting together virtually once a week to foster camaraderie.

“We have been keeping with the Zoom lunches just to try to help the younger guys to at least get to know each other a bit,” said Hibbert, noting that she had four freshmen, two new sophomores and two new juniors who made the squad,

“The first couple of days were all tryouts and some of them didn’t even know the people who had made the team. On Thursday the day we were all together at Community Park and hitting and they got to see each other a bit. That was the end of it so we have been doing some team bonding stuff.”

The players got a little surprise during their initial Zoom session.

“The first week the alums from last year, the three seniors on that team (Simon Hwang, Sameer Joshi, and Aryaman Babber), all Zoom-bombed us and joined in,” said Hibbert, whose senior group this year included Justin Lyu, Brandon Peng, Justin Pan, Leon Morduch, and Kamran Chana.

“Simon joined us from Korea while Sameer and Aryaman are back in the states so that was really cool. We are trying to do the best we can to give some glint of normalcy to at least give them the chance to see each other and see how things are.”

Looking ahead, Hibbert is hoping that sticking together this spring from afar will pay dividends next year.

“It is going to be really interesting to see how things start returning to quote-unquote normal,” said Hibbert.

“We have been trying to keep the guys connected, keep them fit, and keep them doing workouts that will help them going forward. We are trying to keep the team bonding up as much as we can and are hoping to return to a normal season next year.”