October 13, 2021

Senior Star Lependorf Gets Redemption at 2nd Singles As PHS Girls’ Tennis Tops Hightstown in Sectional Semis

SECOND CHANCE: Princeton High girls’ tennis player Bella Lependorf hits a backhand last Thursday against Hightstown in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional semifinals. Senior Lependorf posted a 6-0, 6-0 win over Diana Kalajdzic to help the third-seeded Tigers edge the second-seeded Rams 3-2.Lependorf had opened the season by losing a three-setter against the Rams as PHS dropped a 3-2 nail-biter to Hightstown. The Tigers, who improved to 7-1 with the victory, were slated to play at top-seeded WW/P-North in the sectional final on October 12 with the victor advancing to the state Group 3 semis on October 14 at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Bella Lependorf was primed to make the difference as the Princeton High girls’ tennis team faced Hightstown in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional semifinals last Thursday.

Senior star Lependorf opened the season by losing a three-setter at second singles to Diana Kalajdzic against the Rams as PHS dropped a 3-2 nail-biter to Hightstown on September 8.

As Lependorf hit the court, she was looking for redemption from the opening day loss.

“I think last time I kind of let my emotions get the best of me,” said Lependorf.

“I was a little nervous because it was our first match. This time I tried to stay calm because I know that kind of ruined it for me last time.”

Lependorf succeeded in turning the tables, posting a 6-0, 6-0 win over Kalajdzic as third-seeded PHS prevailed 3-2 over the second-seeded Rams and improved to 7-1, advancing to play at top-seeded WW/P-North in the sectional final on October 12. The victor of that match will play in the state Group 3 semis on October 14 at Mercer County Park.

“I tried to get my first serve percentage higher,” said Lependorf. “I was making a lot of serve errors last time so I wanted to make sure that I fix that this time. It definitely made the difference.”

For Lependorf, making the difference as PHS reached the sectional final in her senior campaign was extra special.

“I was really hoping that this would happen in my senior year because I have been working so hard the last three years. and we always make it to the semis,” said Lependorf.

“I am super proud of the whole team and I am super proud and happy that I get to do this my last year.”

In working on her game, Lependorf has focused on both her mental game and her strokes.

“Definitely my confidence, that is a really big part of my game,” said Lependorf.

“I have also been working a lot on my serve and a lot on my ground stroke consistency. I used to be a little less consistent. I feel like each year I have improved on that a bit more.”

Over the years, Lependorf has also developed as a leader. “It feels great to be a captain and a senior,” said Lependorf.

“I feel like my team really looks up to me. I feel like I am setting a great example every time I go out on the court.”

Being on the court with her younger sister, sophomore Eva, who plays first singles for PHS, has been a great experience for Lependorf.

“At first it was a little weird but it is really nice having her next me now that we have settled in,” said Lependorf.

“We both give each other advice, we are always cheering each other on since we are right next to each other.”

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert was confident that her players would give it their all in the rematch with Hightstown.

“We definitely wanted to come out a little better this time,” said Hibbert.

“Last time, it was our first match and there were some nerves all around. We fought hard; we went to four three-set matches last time. It didn’t bounce our way at the end. I knew we definitely had a good shot at it. We just really had to come out on top of our game, we couldn’t take anything for granted.”

Hibbert knew that senior star Lependorf could tip the balance in favor of the Tigers in the rematch.

“I am so proud of the way Bella came out today, I talked to her yesterday and she said to me ‘I have to win tomorrow, don’t I?’” recalled  Hibbert.

“I said to her, ‘it would certainly help for the team but you know what, do this for you. You are a senior, you have been on varsity for four years, you have worked really hard to do this. You know you didn’t fully play your best in the first match.’ She had rolled her ankle partly through and that was in her head a little bit as well and she got a little over emotional, it wasn’t the best tennis she is capable of playing.”

Lependorf has played some of her best tennis in the state tournament, having rolled to a 6-0, 6-1 win over Albasofia Wagar of Colts Neck in the sectional quarters as PHS prevailed 4-1.

“On Tuesday against Colts Neck, she came out on fire, ready to go and I told to carry that momentum over to Thursday’s match,” said Hibbert.

“It is a new match, a new day, a new you. You are a senior, you have worked so hard for this. Do it for yourself, and show what you can do. I couldn’t ask for more than an 0 and 0. She came out so confident and ready to play.”

Seniors Sophia Kim and Lucia Marckioni rose to the occasion at first doubles, cruising to a 6-0, 6-1 win over Siya Buddhadev and Laora Normand.

“Even last time, they went three sets, they dropped their second set,” said Hibbert.

“They played well today. They knew that had another gear they could go to after they were into the season. Sometimes they get off to a slightly rocky start in September. They cruised through counties, they have been a rock for us. They are our steady position.”

Eva Lependorf clinched the match at first singles, topping Lara Koppel 7-5, 6-1 in the last match action on the court.

“She fought so hard in that first set; her game was not where she wanted it to be but she didn’t give up,” said Hibbert.

“She fought off at least two set points. I told her you did the same thing with Colts Neck, you had a really tight first set and then you were able to cruise in the second set, believe that same thing can happen here. Lara played really well this time. She was much more aggressive and consistent than the last match. Eva was really able to fight through that and play her best tennis in the second set when it really counted and close it out for us.”

Having topped WW/P-North 3-2 on September 14 in a regular season matchup, Hibbert is hoping for an encore performance in the sectional final.

“It is special to get back, we did have a result against North,” said Hibbert.

“However there was a result between us and Hightstown as well and we were able to reverse that so we hope that we are able to hold on. I hope we can just really come out and put our best foot forward and play our best tennis in the final.”

In Lependorf’s view, PHS will be ready to play its best in the rematch with the Northern Knights.

“They are a super solid team too, it is going to be tough,” said Lependorf.

“We are going to have to work hard but we beat them once so I think we can beat them again.”