May 22, 2019

Babber Emerges as Steady Presence at 3rd Singles, Helping PHS Boys’ Tennis Return to Sectional Final

MANPOWER: Princeton High boys’ tennis Aryaman Babber hits a forehand in state tournament action last week. Senior Babber posted a straight-set win at second singles to help second-seeded PHS defeat third-seeded Colts Neck 5-0 in the  Central Jersey Group 3 sectional semis last Thursday. The Tigers ended up falling 4-1 to top-seeded WW/P-N in the sectional final last Monday as they moved to 11-5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Aryaman Babber knew he had to step up this spring in his senior season for the Princeton High boys’ tennis team.

With PHS losing its top three singles players from the 2018 squad that won the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional title and advanced to the state Group 3 final, Babber moved up to third singles from doubles as the team’s lineup got a major facelift this year.

“After we lost all of our three singles players last year, we thought it was going to be a pretty big challenge,” said Babber. “I think all of players really rose to the challenge.”

Babber rose to the occasion in his final campaign, emerging as steady performer at third singles, coming through in some narrow wins for the Tigers.

“I was a lot more tired, there were a lot more longer rallies, a lot of running and tougher matches,” said Babber, reflecting on making the jump to third singles.

“Before I moved here in 11th grade, I was a singles player. I was on doubles last year so it felt pretty good to move back to singles.”

Despite all of the new faces in new places, second-seeded PHS moved on to the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional final, defeating third-seeded Colts Neck 5-0 in the semis last Thursday

In the win over Colts Nock, Babber posted a straight set victory, prevailing 6-1, 6-1 over Shrish Silvan

“My serve was pretty consistent throughout,” said Babber in assessing his performance. “I was able to hit a lot of forehand winners, which is probably my strength.”

Making the sectional final for a second straight year showed the program’s consistency.

“It is pretty amazing,” said Babber. “We made it last year as well, so to be able and come back and do it again after losing three of our top players is a pretty good feeling.”

Although PHS ended up falling 4-1 to top-seeded WW/P-North in the sectional final last Monday to drop to 11-5, that setback doesn’t negate the squad’s progress.

“We have definitely gotten better. Both of our doubles teams are super consistent,” said Babber, who got the lone point for the Tigers in the loss to North, topping Sid Deepak 6-2, 6-2. “All three of our singles are pretty consistent as well.”

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert is proud of how her players got the most out of their potential this spring.

“Overall the team has really clicked as the season has progressed,” said Hibbert. “We have done about as well as we could have expected this year with the returning players that we had. They have all worked hard.”

The Tigers put in some good work in sweeping Colts Neck in the sectional semi. “We certainly got a big boost from the fact that they didn’t have their No. 1, who is a strong player,” said Hibbert.

“It would have been a much different match if he had been there. We were able to sweep the doubles and we were able to pick up the third singles point; that was my plan. The one and the two were going to be very close because I know their No. 1 is ranked. I was expecting Simon [Hwang] to give him a very good match but I wasn’t sure how that would turn out, and with the two, you never know.”

Babber has proven to be a very good player for PHS at third singles.

“He has been a steady presence there for us a senior there; it is first year in the singles lineup for us,” said Hibbert, noting that Babber came through in close wins over Hightstown, Robbinsville, and Allentown.

“He came in last year and with Noah [Lilienthal], Jerry [Gu], Kevin [Yang] and Simon [Hwang]; no one was cracking that lineup. It was nice for him that he was able to step right back up this year and get back into the singles role. I think he brings a good mental game to the singles.”

Considering that the PHS lineup had a much different look from last year, making a return trip to the sectional final was an impressive feat for Hibbert’s squad.

“This is great for us because we lost all three singles players from last year’s sectional champions,” said Hibbert.

“We weren’t expecting to have to rebuild the entire singles lineup and doubles.We only gave one person in the same place as last year [Sameer Joshi at first doubles]. We have had to refashion a lineup.”

Babber, for his part, has relished getting the chance to help PHS thrive in that rebuilding process. 

“Over the last two years, making sectionals twice in a row last year was great,” said Babber.

“Last year, our talent was unbelievable so getting to watch those guys grow and then moving into their spots this year is great.”