Based on its match last week against WW/P-S, it appears that the Princeton High girls’ tennis team is going to be a force to be reckoned with at the upcoming Mercer County Tournament.
Although PHS lost 3-2 to the Pirates, who have won five of the last six MCT team titles, the Little Tigers showed that they are a top level squad.
“It was really close, it could have gone either way,” said PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert, who got wins from Christina Rosca at first singles and Rory Lewis at third singles.
“It came down to three third sets. It would have been a better step if we had won it but it was definitely a good experience. Overall, everyone fought hard. I want the girls to learn from this.”
Having junior superstar Rosca at first singles makes PHS hard to beat.
“Chris looked great in her match,” said Hibbert of Rosca, who won the first singles crown at the MCT last year and went on to take state singles championship.
“She was blasting the ball, she was in good form. She has got some more pace on her shots. Her footwork is better; her serve is a little better.”
At second and third singles, PHS features two battle-tested seniors in Katelyn Hojelbane and Lewis, respectively.
“The two of them are at a very similar level; on any given day one can beat the other,” said Hibbert, noting that Lewis played second singles in 2013 and that Hojelbane held that spot the year before.
“They are both hard workers with solid ground strokes. Confidence will be a big thing for them; they need to believe in themselves because their games are there.”
Hibbert believes her first doubles team of senior Zhenia Dementyev and junior Nikhita Salgame and the second doubles pair of junior Gilliam Samios and sophomore Elise Gerdes should be solid.
“Their styles complement each other,” explained Hibbert. “Zhenia is more aggressive and likes taking over at the net. Nikhita is very steady and keeps the ball in play. Gillian is willing to be aggressive and Elise is a steady player. I didn’t want to put the two aggressive players together and the two steady players together. It is better to balance styles.”
In terms of team leadership, the Little Tigers are benefitting from the complementary styles of seniors Lewis, Dementyev, and Hojelbane,
“All three seniors are co-captains,” said Hibbert. “ All three have different styles and I like that Rory is not the most vocal of the three. She is always working hard and is always ready to go, she is a true leader by example. Zhenia and Katelyn are also great leaders. Katelyn and Zhenia organize the team bonding stuff and cheer on the girls.”
The Little Tigers have the potential to put away most foes. “Overall we have a good group of girls, everyone is working really hard,” said Hibbert, whose team topped Ewing 5-0 last Monday to improve to 5-1 and hosts Lawrence on September 17 before playing at Notre Dame on September 19 and at Steinert on September 22.
“The key is to solidify our doubles teams. Being strong at the bottom is as important as being strong at the top. You can have the best first singles player but you need two other points to back her up. We have good players waiting in the wings. We will be looking to give some players experience at the varsity level.”
If things come together, Hibbert believes her squad can make a very good run at the MCT, which is slated for September 29 and October 1.
“The key is to have everyone there and healthy this year,” said Hibbert. “It can be very close, a lot will depend on the draws and who plays well on the day.”