September 15, 2021

Learning Lessons from Getting Edged in Opener, PHS Girls’ Tennis Motivated for Big Showing in MCT

FIRST RATE: Princeton High girls’ tennis player Eva Lependorf hits a backhand in a match last fall. Sophomore Lependorf has moved into the first singles spot this season for PHS. The Tigers, who defeated Hamilton 5-0 last Friday to improve to 1-1, play at Robbinsville on September 17 before starting action in the Mercer County Tournament on September 20 at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Although the Princeton High girls’ tennis team started its 2021 season with a tough 3-2 loss to Hightstown last Wednesday, Sarah Hibbert believes the early setback could be a blessing in disguise.

“It was disappointing the way it ended, the girls all gave it their all,” said PHS head coach Hibbert, whose team rebounded from the opening day loss to defeat Hamilton 5-0 last Friday.

“We worked as hard as we could and unfortunately the last ball didn’t bounce our way. Hopefully it will give a little extra motivation for the rest of the season, it is alright, we didn’t start off the way we wanted to but we still got a lot of tennis to play.”

Hibbert is getting some good tennis from sophomore Eva Lependorf at first singles, who has moved into the top spot after her classmate Shaila Iyer, last year’s No. 1, decided to pursue her own training and won’t be with the squad this season.

“Eva opened up fantastically; she had a great opening win over Hightstown, 1 and 0, it was really convincing,” said Hibbert.

“She is hitting the ball with a little more confidence, she is hitting the ball harder, She has an extra year of experience and confidence. She is absolutely ready to step into that first singles position.”

Lependorf’s older sister, senior standout Bella, has stepped into the second singles position.

“Bella has been in the varsity lineup for four years now; she started in doubles as a freshman and then moved to second singles as a sophomore,” said Hibbert.

“With her sister and Shaila coming in last year, she moved down to third but had an undefeated season. I think she was initially a little disappointed but then was able to be the rock for us there and go undefeated. She is moving the ball well around the court. She has increased the pace but she also increased her patience, there is a level of maturity now.”

At third singles, freshman Lada Labas, is getting up to speed. “Lada came in with really strong groundstrokes and has been playing for many years,” said Hibbert of Labas who lost a tough three-setter in the match with Hightstown.

“She trains a lot and works really hard. She is willing to run hard for everything and just give her best. Once she gets more comfortable with her position in the lineup and more used to high school tennis, she will do well. She really held her own in that first match. She really fought hard and gave it her all to play three sets and work so hard.”

A pair of seniors, Lucia Marckioni and Sophia Kim, give the Tigers a wealth of experience at the first doubles position as they have been playing together for four years, having been at first doubles on JV as freshmen and then moving up to first doubles on varsity as sophomores.

“In the match on Wednesday, they had a little bit of a shaky second set but they were able to turn it around and use the experience they have as a pairing to pull out third set,” said Hibbert of Marckioni and Kim, who prevailed 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 over Hightstown’s Siya Buddhadev and Laora Normand in the season opener.

“They have the chemistry and they have the communication. It is just making sure that day in, day out they are playing they best tennis because with two people out on court, it is harder. Somebody might have an off day, and it is how do you get through that as a team. They are pretty comparable in their styles, they both play net and groundstrokes. As seniors, they really want to have a great season.”

At second doubles, senior Monica Li and junior Ashley Chen, are looking for a great season as well.

“They played together on JV two years ago so they have some history together, they do get along well,” said Hibbert of the pair who rallied to force a third set against Hightstown but ended up losing the match.

“It is just finalizing some partnership things and getting the experience playing together in tough situations with the pressure. They rallied to force the third set against Hightstown. It was a tough first match because we got rained out of two the week before so they hadn’t really gotten a chance to get out on court and get their feet under them. Then we start off against Hightstown which has been a tough team for us. Until two years ago, we hadn’t beaten them in five years.”

With PHS playing at Robbinsville on September 17 before starting action in the Mercer County Tournament on September 20 at Mercer County Park, Hibbert believes her team will rise to the occasion in the county competition.

“It is always fun to go to the counties; it is nice for them as well that they can get a shot to prove what they can do on their own,” said Hibbert of the tourney which features the five individual flights with team standings based on points accumulated in those matches.

“You are part of a team and that is always important. But it is really nice for some of them to get a chance if they are on a weaker team to shine on their own. If you are the bottom of a really strong team and you don’t always get the press, you can shine for yourself. All of your points contribute to the team. The girls all just want to do as well as they can. We have four seniors on the team this year. It means a lot to them, they want to have a great senior year. You go out each day and try to play your best tennis and hope for the best.”