October 26, 2022

Senior Singles Stars Khandkar, Zhou Go Out Swinging As PDS Girls’ Tennis Falls to Pingry in Non-Public Final

FINAL BATTLE: Princeton Day School girls’ tennis player Neha Khandkar hits a forehand last Thursday at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public final at the Mercer County Park tennis complex. PDS, which had defeated Ranney 4-1 in the Non-Public South sectional final, fell 5-0 to powerhouse Pingry in the state final. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Neha Khandkar and Amy Zhou have been singles stars for the Princeton Day School girls’ tennis team over the last four years, and it was fitting that they ended their career on the court at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public final last Thursday at the Mercer County Park tennis complex.

“Amy and I have been together since freshman year; we have been through it all together,” said Khandkar.

Zhou, for her part, has enjoyed sharing the ride with Khandkar.

“Me and Neha were singles during freshman year and through all of the years,” said Zhou. “It has been nice playing all these years. I will remember the hardships and the highs and lows. Sometimes winning feels great, but also losing together is hard.”

The Non-Public final against powerhouse Pingry turned out to be a low as PDS fell 5-0.

“We know it is a tough team to play — we have played them a lot of times before,” said Khandkar.

In her match at first singles against Anika Paul of Pingry, she fought hard in a straight-set defeat.

“The first set was a lot closer; there were times where I was up on changeovers and it gave me a lot of adrenaline,” said Khandkar. “I had a lot of energy in the first set and that sort of dwindled a little bit in the second.”

While Zhou also lost in straight sets at third singles, she showed the progress in her game.

“I can read the ball better,” said Zhou. “I am more mature when it comes to playing now and think more about strategy.”

Winning a second straight Non-Public South Jersey sectional with a 4-1 win over the Ranney School on October 18 was special for the Panthers.

“I think people underestimate how much pressure there is when you are the defending champion; there is a target on your back,” said Khandkar. “When we saw we were the No. 1 seed in the bracket and had a bye, we were like ‘oh my God that is crazy.’ We realize it was because we won sectionals last year. I thought we did even better this year, it was pretty clean and overall more solid wins.”

Over her career, Khandkar worked hard to become a more solid player.

“I think one way I have improved is versatility in my game,” said Khandkar.

“I think drop shots and stuff were never in my repertoire. Now it is just working on small things, learning to move people around, changing people’s games. It is more mental.”

PDS head coach Michael Augsberger was proud of the game his players displayed against Pingry.

“We have ultimate respect for Pingry,” said Augsberger. “They are an outstanding team, one of the best. Last year they lost in the Tournament of  Champions final so that shows how they stack up against everybody else. We fought hard.”

Khandkar and the second doubles pair of senior Josephine Baranski and sophomore Kavita Amin played hard in defeat.

“I am really proud of Neha’s performance, Anika’s serve is really hard to break down,” said Augsberger.

“Neha was keeping her own serve and trying to chip away at that serve a little. Anika was just able to pull her out wide a little too often. Our second doubles had a really good showing,  Josie and Kavita were right there at 4-3 in the first set.”

While the loss in the final stung, Augsberger sees the second straight sectional title as a big achievement.

“We are really proud of the ladies, it is all their work on the off-season with their personal coaches and their families that is what gets them to this level,” said Augsberger. “While they are here we try to give them the opportunities to stay in rhythm and try to help them with their mental strength. We love being in the NJSIAA. There are so many different opportunities through the season and tournaments that you have one bad taste in your mouth, you get it out right away. There are so many things to gun for, and we love challenging ourselves like that.”

Augsberger credits Khandkar with helping the Panthers reach a higher level.

“Neha is a coach’s dream, she works hard, she has an unbelievable mental toughness and a great attitude,” said Augsberger. “She is a great sport. She can be even too generous on her calls sometimes but she is fighter. She is an excellent leader, she is going to go on to big things. We are proud of her. She can play somewhere in college, without question.”

Zhou has also done some big things over her PDS career.

“Amy brings a lightness to the team, she is quiet,” said Augsberger. “For a third singles player to take those offensive opportunities like she does and to play like first singles tennis like she does, says a lot about her ability.”

The squad’s third senior, Baranski, has been the glue for the doubles pairs.

“I am really proud of her, I know how much she wanted to play first doubles and she got the chance to do it at Preps and she won it,” said Augsberger.

“Playing second doubles all year with Kavita, she really stepped into a leadership role. She is a vocal leader for the whole team.”

With doubles players Amin, sophomore Arya Kalra, and junior Ashlyn Du along with junior Kristina Wang at second singles slated to return next year, the future looks bright for the Panthers.

“They are really hungry players, that is the thing,” said Augsberger. “Kavita and Arya have waited a long time. It going to be filling in those first and second doubles spots. It is going to come down to us bringing new people in.”

As Khandkar looks back on her PDS tennis experience, she will savor the good times on and off the court.

“Sectionals is one of the things that will stand out and also the average things too, the bus rides, listening to music, talking and sharing food on the bus,” said Khandkar.