October 28, 2020

With 1st Doubles Pair of Masia, Van Dusen Setting Tone, PDS Girls’ Tennis Team Gets Off to Sizzling 8-0 Start

IN SYNC: Hayden Masia, left, and Hannah Van Dusen encourage each other during a recent match at first doubles for the Princeton Day School girls’ tennis team. The pair of seniors, who won the state Prep B title at first doubles in 2019, have helped PDS produce an 8-0 start this fall in their final campaign. The Panthers play at Pennington on October 29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Familiarity is breeding success for Hayden Masia and Hannah Van Dusen as they play their final season at first doubles for the Princeton Day School girls’ tennis team.

Having won the state Prep B title at first doubles in 2019, the pair has helped PDS produce an 8-0 start this fall in their senior campaign.

Last Friday, Masia and Van Dusen displayed their cohesiveness, posting a 6-2, 6-2 win over Amelie Halgan and Gia Villegas of Pennington as the Panthers prevailed 4-1.

“Throughout the season, one of our main focuses has been making sure our points are structured to our advantage,” said Masia, noting that the pair also played a few matches together as freshmen.

“For example, Hannah is really really good at putting balls away at the net and I am more of a baseliner. So especially on my serve, it is a good set up. We have been working on that throughout the season. I think it really showed today that you set up the point in such a way that you know Hannah can finish the point and be done with it. It works well as a pair better than individually.”

Van Dusen enjoys closing the deal on volleys. “We try to finish points at the net,” said Van Dusen.

“Hayden will hit either a serve or a really good ground stroke and I will try to look for shorter balls so I can attack it and get points.”

With playing styles that mesh, the pair of Masia and Van Dusen is in sync.

“Playing together with the same person for three years really lets you figure put your style and then your style in the context that you are playing with another person,” said Masia. “You have to complement their style as well as make sure that you are playing to your strengths.”

Over the years, the two have become close off the court. “We have definitely gotten more comfortable with each other as we have played with each other,” said Van Dusen.

“We didn’t know each other in ninth grade but we slowly became friends. It has been really helpful just to always have someone there on the court who you are not only doubles partner with but also just a good friend.”

The bond between Van Dusen and Masia has permeated the PDS squad this fall.

“With our team chemistry, something about it is special this year,” said Masia.

“We have a group chat that is super active. The team as a group are very close which I think helps bring each other up. It is not awkward in practice. You are not afraid to make mistakes because you know it’s not just your teammates, it is your actual friends there to help you regardless of grade. We have a young team which is great for the future.”

Van Dusen concurs, believing that closeness has helped the team succeed.

“Our team is undefeated this year, it has been really fun,” said Van Dusen. “Everyone is very close, it is a good balance of different grades.”

For Masia, keeping focused on what they do best has helped the Panthers remain undefeated.

“I think the way that we tend to win is to play our game,” said Masia.

“It is don’t play their game. If they are better than you, match their game. If you are better than them, make sure that you don’t match their game. Do your own thing because you know you are good.”

PDS first year head coach Chris Rosensteel liked the way his players handled things against Pennington.

“It was such a competitive match, it was awesome,” said Rosensteel. “The girls competing as such a high level, it is pretty cool.”

In Rosensteel’s view, the pair of Masia and Van Dusen have helped PDS take things to a higher level.

“To have them lead the team and set the tone for the team is awesome for us to have,” said Rosensteel.

“They have had the opportunity to play together before and they have that great teamwork. What we have been working on with them in practice is just a little bit on the decision making. For me as a coach, it is very easy to coach them.”

At second doubles, junior Eshaa Doshi and senior Gabrielle Namouni showed some good teamwork as they posted a 6-3, 6-3 win over Pennington’s Anjollie Ramakrishna and Safa Morrison.

“They have good doubles experience, it is just getting them in the good positions where they are playing aggressively at the net,” said Rosensteel.

“They both play aggressively and I just kept saying keep putting yourself in a good position.”

Sophomore Amy Zhou has been playing smartly at third singles for PDS.

“Amy has been great for us this season,” said Rosensteel of Zhou, who defeated Lauren Becker 6-2, 6-2 in the win over the Red Raiders.

“She plays very tough; she figures out a different way against all of her opponents.”

In terms of toughness, sophomore Neha Khandkar has stood out with her play at second singles, drawing 3-6, 4-3 with Praslin Hayes in the Pennington match.

“The way Neha competes, I am the proudest of her on the team,” said Rosensteel.

“It is the way she focuses in on every point and she doesn’t let things bother her. Every point, she is locked in and you can tell she puts pressure on you for the entire match. The girl she played today played at such a high level in the first half of the match. I said Neha, ‘keep doing what you are doing, keep playing your game.’ They didn’t finish the second set but there was positive headway.”

Freshman Emmy Demorre has brought a positive presence to first singles with her power game.

“Emmy has got a tremendous serve; I think her serve is competitive at a college level right now,” said Rosensteel of Demorre, who drew 7-6 (7-4), 2-2 with Pennington’s Polaris Hayes.

“It is just getting her a little more consistent with it. She plays aggressive so getting her to bounce back even when she will set up a point great and loses that point. We just want to make sure that we positively reinforce, hey you made a great decision there.”

In taking the helm of the PDS program, Rosensteel emphasizes the positive.

“The biggest thing as a coach for me is to see them compete well and have a positive self-narrative when they play these matches,” said Rosensteel, a former tennis standout for the Peddie School and Stevens Institute of Technology who has also coached for The College of New Jersey.

“Tennis is so mental. I have been encouraging the girls not to get down and the biggest focus for me as a coach is making sure that they are having these positive thoughts in the match in order to help them play their best.”

Rosensteel also works on encouraging his players to embrace a team mentality.

“I am obviously really lucky to come in and have such a good team,” said Rosensteel, whose team plays at Pennington on October 29 to wrap up the 2020 season.

“I am just thankful to be working with some good girls and more importantly, they are easy to get along with. It is a unique opportunity to play for a team, it is such a special thing. Looking back on my tennis experience, the happiest times have been with the teams. Any time you can be in a team environment for tennis, it is very special. I am trying to get the girls to appreciate that.”

Masia, for her part, is appreciating her final campaign at PDS.

“It is our last season which makes me really sad,” said Masia. “I have no concerns about Preps or who is winning. I am just having fun, I love my team. It is a great time.”

Van Dusen is determined to play great to the end. “My idea is that you are never really down in a match, there is always a way to come back and play better,” said Van Dusen.

“We are trying to finish up the season strong, play our best together, and just end on a good note.”