October 19, 2022

PHS Girls’ Tennis Turns the Tables on WW/P-North, Topping Northern Knights 4-1 in Sectional Semis

COACHING THEM UP: Princeton High girls’ tennis head coach Sarah Hibbert, left, talks strategy with her first doubles team of Maya-Alexandra Todorov and Ashley Chen during a recent match. Last Friday, third-seeded PHS defeated second-seeded WW/P-North 4-1 in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA)Central Jersey Group 3 sectional semifinals, avenging a 3-2 loss to the Northern Knights in late September. The Tigers, now 10-1, were slated to play at top-seeded Red Bank Regional in the sectional final on October 18 with the victor advancing to the state Group 3 semis on October 20 at the Mercer County Park tennis complex. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

In late September, the Princeton High girls’ tennis second doubles team of Ashna Bushan and Sophie Miller lost a tough three-setter to WW/P-North as the Tigers got edged 3-2 in the match.

When the foes met last Friday at the Mercer County Park tennis complex in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey Group 3 sectional semifinals, the pair of freshman Bushan and senior Miller were primed to turn the tables on North’s Anusha Kumar and Odette Liu.

Bushan saw smarter play as a key in the rematch. “We tried to communicate better and focus more on getting the balls in rather than trying to hit harder,” said Bushan.

Miller was concentrating on bringing a positive mindset to round two.

“The coach (Sarah Hibbert) said not to get frustrated with our last match, and we didn’t do that,” said Miller. “We went in wanting to win and not just being frustrated that we lost last time.”

The PHS pair frustrated their foes, rolling a 6-1 win in the first set.

“Our communication was really good, we were more consistent,” said Miller, reflecting on the strong start. “We got our shots in. We didn’t make unforced errors, which I think is part of what happened last time. We would hit out instead of just focusing on getting the ball into the court.”

Heading into the second set, Bushan and Miller kept their focus.

“We try not to get too confident because we didn’t want that to affect our second set,” said Bushan. “We tried to remain calm and just continue it like it was. We were trying to remain like we were still at even and we weren’t ahead so we wouldn’t get too confident and mess up the game.”

They didn’t mess up, going on to win 6-1, 6-1 as third-seeded PHS flipped the script on second-seeded WW/P-N, prevailing 4-1 in advancing to the sectional final at top-seeded Red Bank Regional in the match which was scheduled for October 18. The victor will then compete in the state Group 3 semis on October 20 at the Mercer County Park tennis complex.

PHS head coach Hibbert sensed that her players were fired up for their second shot at WW/P-N.

“I think it was a little bit of experience and motivation from last time,” said Hibbert. “We were disappointed with the way it ended. It was a very close match, it could have gone either way. It was disappointing after that three-hour battle to wind up losing it 3-2 in a third set tiebreak and 7-5 third set. We knew we had the potential to win that. We were just hoping that we could use it for the motivation today and come our fired up and play our best tennis.”

The Tigers achieved that goal in producing the reversal of fortune.

“Right off the bat, we got off to a lead on every court, taking five first sets,” said Hibbert. “That is a good start, but we have to win three second sets  before I can celebrate.”

Hibbert got to celebrate relatively early as straight-set wins by Johanna Roggenkamp at first singles and the first doubles pair of Ashley Chen and Maya-Alexandra Todorov along with the second doubles victory clinched the match for PHS. The Tigers got a fourth win from Katie Qin at third singles, who had suffered a defeat in the earlier match with the Northern Knights.

“Second doubles and Katie at third singles had amazing turnarounds today,” said Hibbert. “They were able to fight back and play a great match. I am just really proud of the team today and how they were able to step up and play their best tennis. Losing five of our seven starters last year from a sectional championship team, we didn’t know where we would be this year. To be back in the sectional final that is an amazing result.”

Hibbert was excited by the result at second doubles. “They have really started clicking the last couple of weeks, they are communicating more,” said Hibbert. “They came out with confidence today. I think last time they started a little weak and then they doubted themselves in places. Today they were all business. I said to them, I wasn’t even going to go over and talk to them while they were rolling. They had it under control and I didn’t want to jinx them or break their momentum.”

Roggenkamp and the first doubles pair of Chen and Todorov have had things under control all fall.

“Johanna does her thing, no drama; she hustles for every ball, she works so hard, she is very athletic and she does exactly what she needs to do,” said Hibbert. “We have had a really strong first doubles team for the last couple of years and they were able to be a highlight again for us today and close out the match.”

In the wake of the win over WW/P-N, Hibbert is hoping for a big match against Red Bank Regional in the sectional final and another trip to the state semis.

“Getting to the sectional final with a revamped lineup, we were hoping for the best,” said Hibbert, who team topped Trenton 5-0 last Monday in a regular season match to improve to 10-1. “We are hoping we can come ready to go and play our best tennis in the sectional final. It would great to be back here on Thursday. It is one match at time. We had no idea what to expect this year, it has been a fantastic year. I am really proud of their achievements so far, getting back to a sectional final is fantastic.”

Miller, for her part, is looking for a fantastic finish to her PHS career.

“I am really happy that we won; we lost to this team before but I am really glad we won this time because it is more important,” said Miller. “It is really exciting to be in the final because it is my last year on the team. We just need to not make unforced errors, just play consistently and make really smart shots.”