1st Doubles Pair of Chen, Todorov Wins MCT Title As PHS Girls’ Tennis Places 7th in Team Standings
DOUBLE WHAMMY: Princeton High girls’ tennis doubles star Ashley Chen reaches for a shot last week at the Mercer County Tournament as partner Maya-Alexandra Todorov looks on from the baseline. The pair of senior Chen and sophomore Todorov won the first doubles title at the MCT as PHS placed seventh in the team standings. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Ashley Chen and Maya-Alexandra Todorov quickly sensed they would be a good pairing when they were teamed up at first doubles this season for the Princeton High girls’ tennis team.
Senior Chen liked the chemistry between the two from the outset.
“I don’t think we had really big issues,” said Chen. “We just played together well.”
Todorov, a sophomore, had a similar feeling. “We realized we had a good team,” said Todorov. “We have good communication. We are good friends, we set each other up really well.”
Their playing styles meshed as well. “Maya’s net game is really strong; if it is a short ball, she is right there,” said Chen. “I know I can always rely on her to get that. My groundstrokes are strong, and I hit them angled. She can put it away.”
The 6’0 Todorov thrives on dominating matches with her volleys.
“Playing at the net is what I bring, it is easier on my knees,” said Todorov, who was sidelined last season by injury. “Ashley is really consistent and sets up the ball good and I just put it away.”Last
Wednesday, Chen and Todorov displayed teamwork and skill as they rallied to put away Peddie’s Lakhi Raju and Catherine Zhang 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 in the first doubles final at the Mercer County Tournament.
The comeback was a product of the pair being more deliberate.
“We slowed it down,” said Todorov. “We talked to each other, and we went by our own pace. We didn’t let them rush us.”
After setting the pace in the second set, Chen sensed that they could finish the deal.
“We tried to keep the momentum with us,” added Chen. “We definitely were feeling confident going into the third; they were upset. We just kept going. We just had a pace; we kept the exact pace with everything.”
Winning the doubles crown was a special county tournament sendoff for Chen.
“It is my last time playing this, winning a county title is awesome,” said Chen.
Playing in the MCT for the first time, Todorov was thrilled to come through with the title.
“It is a big deal,” said Todorov. “We haven’t registered it — we are really excited.”
PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert was excited to see Chen and Todorov prevail.
“That was a real highlight for us, we have had strong first doubles team for the last few years,” said Hibbert, whose squad ended up placing seventh in the team standings at the event which was won by WW/P-South. “Sophia [Kim] and Lucia [Marckioni] have won it a couple of years. It was really nice for them, being a new pairing to be able to continue our tradition of a strong first doubles team.”
The pair played some really nice tennis in bouncing back from losing the first set in the final.
“We talked about recovering from it and going forward,” said Hibbert. “They did a really good job of getting out of the gate to a 3-0 start. They were able to get the lead and get the momentum and take it into the third set. They were rushing a little bit at the beginning. They were playing into the game of the other team that liked to hit really hard and move quickly. It was taking us out of our game, and I told them to slow down, take a second, refocus. Think about what you are going to do, just don’t run, run through it.”
Chen and Todorov have the game to run through most foes.
“Ashley sets up the ball well and Maya is fantastic at net,” said Hibbert. “They had great volleys and very smart placement. Some people just hit the ball really hard, but Maya knows when to play the angles, when to attack, and she just has great hands. Ashley was hitting good volleys, serving nicely, and setting them up. It was great match for them. I am really proud of how well they were able to play there.”
Hibbert was also proud of second doubles team of senior Sophie Miller and freshman Ashna Bushan, who ended up third as they defeated Anushka Chintamaneni and Malin Phelan of Lawrenceville in the third-place match, prevailing in a 10-point match tiebreaker after the teams split the first two sets.
“They lost a really close set in a tiebreak, and they didn’t let that discourage them,” said Hibbert. “They were able to rally from that and win a second set They had hoped to play a full third set as opposed to a tiebreak. They were able to get to a 7-0 lead and then the other team came back to 7-5 but they were able to really focus in and hold them off and really play a couple of really good points at the end. It is nice for them being a new pairing as well; a senior/freshman pairing that is getting a medal as well.”
While all three PHS singles players were all eliminated on the first day of the MCT, they showed promise.
“Our first singles (junior Johanna Roggenkamp) lost to the finalist, our second singles (sophomore Lada Labas) lost to the finalist, and our third singles (freshman Katie Qin) lost to the champion,” said Hibbert.
“They unfortunately just had poor draws. They played good matches against them, they all fought really hard.”
With the state sectional around the corner, Hibbert is confident her team will keep fighting really hard.
“We have states coming up, we see North next week so that will be a good test for us as well,” said Hibbert. “I think this will give us really good experience going into states. We will see what happens. We are in Group 3 this year; hopefully this experience will help them get a little more prepared.”
Todorov, for her part, is primed to build on her experience at the MCT.
“I have never played states before, it is really early in the season,” said Todorov. “Playing all of these people will definitely give is an advantage.”
In Chen’s view, winning the county crown will help make the pair tough to beat in states.
“I think winning this and having that county title and still having a lot more of our season left definitely gives us a lot of confidence,” said Chen. “All of the people we played at counties, we have not played in our season. It helps us to see them again and being confident since we beat them before. We can go into states with that.”