In late September, the Princeton High girls’ tennis team marked itself as surefire contenders for the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) championship, beating perennial power WW/P-S 4-1 in a dual match.
But in its final outing before the start of the MCT, PHS lost second singles star, Chenchen Wang, to a season-ending knee injury.
Having to juggle its singles lineup as it started play in the county tourney last week at Mercer County Park, the Little Tigers were behind the eight ball.
While PHS fought valiantly, the loss of Wang dashed its title dreams with PHS having to settle for third with WW/P-S taking first and WW/P-N placing second.
Little Tiger head coach Sarah Hibbert lauded her players’ effort but she rued what might have been.
“Overall I think everyone played as well as they could based on the situation that some of them were put in,” said Hibbert, who moved third singles player Katelyn Hojelbane into the No. 2 spot and brought Zehia Dementyev into the lineup at third singles.
“I am proud of the effort that they put forth and that we were still competitive considering that we didn’t have our No. 2 singles player. I really think we could have won it this year and other coaches told me the same thing.”
PHS did get a nice win at the MCT as the first doubles team of senior Maddie Cahill-Sanidas and sophomore Rory Lewis took the title in their flight, topping Sanjana Ravi and Angela Li of WW/P-S, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in the championship match.
“They just have to play their game and not get thrown off by the other team,” said Hibbert, reflecting on her first doubles pair.
“Maddie is a senior this year; she has really worked hard and she is such a good doubles player. When she gets fired up, she plays better. Some people when they get too aggressive start to down spiral. She needs to be psyched up and believe to win. I know how much they wanted this.”
The PHS second doubles team of senior Lindsay Eberhart and junior Allison Hubert showed fight as they battled to a three-set win over Ranjitha Vasa and Nanese Koike of WW/P-N in the semis before falling to the Peddie pair of Rebecca Seman and Hannah Spears in the championship match in another three-setter.
“That semifinal match was incredible; they started out playing really well and then they got very nervous in the second set and most of the third set but they were able to regroup at the right time,” said Hibbert recalling the team’s 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5) semifinal marathon victory.
“They knew they had a good record in tiebreaks and I just kept telling them that and they kept telling each other we can do this; we can make it to a tiebreaker and we can win this. They just hung really tough when it counted and that was great for team points and for them as well. It is their first year on varsity and it is really nice for them that they were contenders in the tournament and made the final. They work really well together.”
Freshman first singles star Christina Rosca, who made it to the final where she lost 6-1, 6-2 to Samantha Asch of Princeton Day School, gave PHS some great work in her first county tourney.
“Chris made an amazing debut; we knew she was good but it was nice for her to make it to the final and give Sam probably the toughest match she has had in the county tournament,” said Hibbert.
“Chris went through to the final without losing a set. She had a good semis match with Sneha [Rangu of Hightstown] in the morning. I was proud of the way she regrouped after getting down 0-3 in the first set to take it 7-5. She really fought hard against Sam in the final. They were having a great match, you wouldn’t know who was winning from watching it. For Sam to be a senior who has won it three years in a row and for Chris to be a freshman, she put up an amazing fight.”
In Hibbert’s view, Rosca has an amazing future ahead of her. “She has a willingness to work very hard; she trains a lot and she is always out trying to improve her game,” said Hibbert.
“She has the complete repertoire, the serve and volley and great ground strokes. She is a very smart player. She really thinks a lot on court and knows how to find her opponent’s weaknesses. I think she can just keep improving.”
Hibbert hopes her team will keep improving as it deals with the loss of Wang.
“We still have states coming up so we we will see,” said Hibbert, whose team was seeded first in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional and topped No. 16 Middletown North 5-0 last Friday in opening round action with the quarters slated for October 9 and the semis scheduled for October 11.
“Obviously this presents some new challenges, having to see how we are going to move forward from here. We have had a good start to the season and we are going to do the best we can as a team to come through.”