Featuring Depth, Positive Team Chemistry, PDS Girls’ Tennis Produced Undefeated Season
By Bill Alden
For the three seniors on the Princeton Day School girls’ tennis team, Hayden Masia, Hannah Van Dusen, and Gabrielle Namouni, this fall could have been a lost season.
With the state Prep B tourney and the Mercer County Tournament getting canceled due to COVID-19 issues, it would have been understandable if the trio lost some motivation with no titles to shoot for.
Instead, they helped make the 2020 season unforgettable, setting the tone as the Panthers went 11-0.
“For Hayden, Hannah, and Gabby as seniors, it is very much an exclamation point at the end of their playing careers,” said PDS head coach Chris Rosensteel of his veteran performers, who all played doubles with Masia and Van Dusen pairing up at first doubles and Namouni playing with junior Eshaa Doshi at second doubles.
“I don’t know if they will pursue college tennis at some level. As far as a team sport, that was huge for them. They are the reason the team was close-knit. They developed a really good team atmosphere where everybody was supporting each other. I know we did well in matches, but we also did really well in practice. I felt like every practice was productive and a big part of that was those girls setting the standard in practices. As a result, we had productive practices and then the girls felt like they could go into the matches with a little bit more confidence and more relaxed.”
PDS kept playing hard to the end, topping Pennington 4-1 on October 31 and then defeating Hill 9-0 in its season finale on November 4, using the college dual match format.
“The girls finished the season really strong,” said Rosensteel. “The Pennington match was very close, they competed really well. We added that Hill match at the last minute. We were really happy to play because I was able to get a lot of the girls in. It was a great opportunity for Emmy [Demorre] and Neha [Khandkar] at one and two to play doubles together. It was a good opportunity for girls who normally don’t play doubles to get some doubles experience.”
In going undefeated, the Panthers showed their competitive fire throughout the lineup.
“I think the reason why the girls had such a successful year is because of the depth,” said Rosensteel.
“I made a point of illustrating this when I was talking to the girls. In all of our 3-2 matches, it was a different combination of girls that stepped up. When you have depth, if somebody is struggling our team was like we are going to pick up whoever is struggling by focusing well on doing what we are doing. That is something pretty cool in playing tennis on a team.”
Noting that PDS was able to run the table against some challenging foes this fall, Rosensteel believes the program is ready to take on some more high-powered teams in the future.
“We played a pretty competitive schedule this year to go undefeated so that is pretty impressive,” said Rosensteel.
“Going forward into next year that just makes me feel like we can schedule really aggressively. The big thing from the season is that going into next season is that we feel like we can compete with the best teams.”
With freshman Demorre at first singles, PDS boasts one of the best young players in the area.
“Emmy is really talented; she has a big serve and a huge forehand,” said Rosensteel.
“The tools are there. I think it is just about the decision-making and obviously with tennis the mental part is such a big part.”
At second singles, sophomore Khandkar brings an aggressive mental approach.
“Neha plays an attacking style of tennis that is getting increasingly uncommon,” added Rosensteel.
“It is awesome to see. She really puts a lot of pressure on the baseline and she looks to finish a lot of points at the net. For me that is the coaching style I am most closely aligned with as a player. I just keep encouraging her to be aggressive.”
Sophomore Amy Zhou finishes off opponents at third singles with deft groundstrokes.
“Amy is really solid from the back line and she probably has the best backhand on the team,” said Rosensteel.
“So it is getting Amy into these backhand patterns or situations where she is working from the baseline and pulling her opponents off the court a lot, whether it be by angles or moving them side to side. That is where Amy’s strong points are and keeping that going is huge for her.”
In addition to the return of doubles standout Doshi, the Panthers have plenty of talent waiting in the wings, starting with freshman Kristina Wang.
“Kristina is going to be good, she is going to push those three girls as well because I know she is going to work hard at her singles,” said Rosensteel, noting that many of the young players excelled in the season-ending win over Hill with Wang, sophomore Josephine Baranski, junior Sophie Zhang, junior Emily Zhu, and sophomore Ava Fong each picking up singles wins in the match.
“It will be interesting to see if we can push her to work on her doubles skills.”
With the players getting to work hard in practice all September before matches started in early October, the Panthers got ample opportunity to develop camaraderie and sharpen their game.
“The whole season I was waiting for that day where it would be oh, the rest of the season is canceled because of that experience in March,” said Rosensteel, who was set to coach the PDS boys’ tennis team this past spring before its season ended abruptly in mid-March due to the pandemic.
“I think that actually helped because it was about making the most of each day, whether it be practice or a match. We did have the opportunity to practice for a while as a team. I think that probably helped develop the good team environment as well. I feel like the season is so short in a normal year but this year afforded us that unique opportunity to do so much skill development. I really enjoyed that from a coaching perspective.”