September 14, 2022

PDS Girls’ Tennis Opens Season with Narrow Losses, Believes Tough Competition Will Yield Dividends

STROKE OF BRILLIANCE: Princeton Day School girls’ tennis player Neha Khandkar smacks a forehand in a match last season. Senior Khandkar will playing at first singles again this fall for PDS. The Panthers, who started the season with 3-2 losses to Peddie School and Haddonfield last week before topping Mount St. Mary 5-0 last Monday, play at the Stuart Country Day School on September 16, compete in the Newark Academy Invitational on September 17, and then start play in the Mercer County Tournament on September 19 at the Mercer County Park tennis complex. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While seeing his Princeton Day School girls’ tennis team start the season with a pair of narrow losses last week stung a little, Michael Augsberger is hoping his players gain some lessons from the setbacks.

“I think the biggest takeaway is patience and realize that we are not quite decided on everything yet so there is a lot of juggling with the lineup to come,” said Augsberger, whose team fell 3-2 to Peddie last Thursday in its season opener and then lost 3-2 to Haddonfield a day later before beating Mount St. Mary 5-0 last Monday.

“It is also patience in terms of not getting your head down when you are losing early in a match or whether you lose the first couple matches in a season. The match is long and the season is long. There is lot of tweaking to be done and they are only going to improve. They will realize that. Once they are in better form and their reactions are a little bit stronger with the volleys, they are going to win these points that are going the other way.”

At first singles, senior Neha Khandkar gives the Panthers a very strong player at the top of its lineup.

“Neha is one of the best around, she is really mentally strong,” said Augsberger. “We love her mentality and the way that she leads the team, the way that she never gives up and thinks her way through situations. She has improved a lot. Her slice is a little better, she is playing angles a little bit differently. A lot of it is in her decision-making. Her consistency is a little bit stronger. She is a bit fitter and able to last a little longer with that year of maturity.”

Senior Amy Zhou has been showing consistency at second singles.

“Amy is really impressive right now,” said Augsberger. “She won the second singles spot, she is playing very well.”

In the third singles spot, junior Kristina Wang is bringing patience and skill.

“Kristina is very comfortable at the baseline, hitting in rallies,” said Augsberger. “I feel like she can outlast almost anybody in terms of strokes and rallies. I don’t need to work with her to stay patient. It is more about picking the right time to be aggressive and when to work in the net game.”

The pair of sophomore Arya Kalra and senior Josephine Baranski have started the season at first doubles.

“Arya is probably the most improved player out of everybody, she is one of the best volleyers on the team,” said Augsberger. “Josephine seems to really likes playing with her. She got the experience from last year; she played a lot of first doubles with Sophie Zhang. That is why we paired them up. I knew it had to be Arya. It is a matter of finding her the right partner.”

At second doubles, junior Ashlyn Du and sophomore Kavita Amin are getting some valuable experience in the early going.

“Ashlyn really wants to break out this his year; she senses the urgency, she has been patient for a long time,” said Augsberger. “We want her to shine and she has put in a lot of work with Arya in the offseason. They have the same offseason coaches. Ashlyn is probably the next best singles player so it is a matter of translating it into doubles for her. Kavita is right there too. She won some really big singles matches for us last year. We want her to be in the lineup full time which this means doubles.”

With the Mercer County Tournament starting on September 19 at the Mercer County Park tennis complex, Augsberger is hoping his players can come up with some big wins at the event.

“Anything can happen with singles; we believe in all three of our singles ladies, they could do a lot of damage,” said Augsberger. “It is on me to figure out what the doubles teams are going to be so they can
develop the chemistry they are going to need and give us the points to make us real contenders. We have had tough losses, but it is a good barometer of where we are. It is an awakening. We need to see whether it is going to inject life in us or will it make us depressed. I hope we choose the former. We need to improve if we are going to make a good run at the MCTs.”

Facing tough competition should steel the Panthers for the challenges ahead this fall.

“We are really proud of that strength of schedule, we don’t want to shy away from the best,” said Augsberger, who guided the Panthers to the Non-Public A South Jersey sectional title last fall.

“Newark Academy invited us to their invitational. That puts a strain on the schedule and that is tough competition but we jumped at the chance. We want to play the best and be prepared for it.”