May 3, 2023

Displaying its Depth, Talent with Dominant Effort, PHS Boys’ Tennis Wins MCT for 1st Time Since ’03

SERVING NOTICE: Princeton High boys’ tennis junior star Melvin Huang follows through on a serve last week at the Mercer County Tournament. Huang took the title at second singles, helping PHS roll to the team title. It marked the first county crown for the program since 2003. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

It was a shot that exemplified the skill and verve displayed by the Princeton High boys’ tennis team last week at the Mercer County Tournament.

Playing in the second singles final last Wednesday at the Mercer County Park tennis complex, junior star Melvin Huang chased down a shot from Joshua Chu of Princeton Day School in the first set and flipped it between his legs over his foe for a winner.

Huang went on to win the match in straight sets, providing one of many highlights as PHS rolled to the title, winning the program’s first MCT crown since 2003.

The Tigers advanced to the semifinals in all five flights of the tourney, making the finals in four as they piled up 26.5 points with runner-up Pennington well behind with 20. In addition to Huang’s win at second singles, the pair of Aman Kapur and Andrew Kuo prevailed at second doubles. Jonathan Gu placed second at first singles while Garrett Mathewson was the runner-up at third singles. The first doubles pair of Nikita Medvedev and Shaan Zaveri took third.

For Huang, the squad’s dominant performance served notice that it is a force this spring.

“It feels really great,” said Huang. “It feels like now we are proving to everyone that we are a team that people should watch out for.”

Huang proved he is someone to watch, rolling to a 6-0, 6-3 win over Joshua Chu of Princeton Day School in the second singles final.

“My game play was just to stay consistent because I knew he has big weapons but his backhand is not as strong,” said Huang. “I was just trying to play his backhand, make him play balls, and just try to tire him out.”

Playing the shot between his legs for a winner against Chu didn’t come out of nowhere. “I have been working on it in practice,” said a grinning Huang.

Huang worked hard to improve his game over the last year.

“I have raised my level at everything,” said Huang. “I have the same base but at a higher level; I am a little bit faster, a little bit heavier. My serve is a lot better than last year. Last year I was struggling with injuries so I wasn’t 100 percent. I was working on conditioning this summer and it paid off a lot.”

Getting the county crown as a payoff meant a lot to Huang. “It is my first title here,” said Huang. “It is a big confidence boost,  finally ending on a win not a loss. It is really nice.”

It was very nice for PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert to see her team end its title drought.

“It has been a very long time, it is great for them,” said Hibbert. “It is a really solid group. I think it is the depth and they are hard workers. We have the returning one-two punch of Jonathan and Melvin and then bringing in Garrett as a third singles as a freshman. He really solidified our singles lineup. We have the depth throughout the lineup. It is nice having the 1-2-3 singles punch but every once in a while there are going to be players that are better so to have the doubles teams with Nikita and Shaan and Aman and Andrew be strong and back up the singles is crucial.”

Huang’s strong performance was crucial to the win. “Melvin has absolutely raised his game, he works so hard on his game,” said Hibbert. “Melvin played fantastically, it is his first county title. He puts in all of the hard work and sweat. He has a lot more power. He is able to finish points a lot quicker. In his freshman year, he was very steady but he couldn’t finish the points with the same vigor. This year, he has the ability to rally but he can step up and really put the point away.”

While first singles senior star Gu fell in three sets in the first singles final to PDS sophomore standout Heyang Li, Hibbert was proud of his effort.

“Jonathan played a good second set, he forced a third, it was a couple of unforced errors for him at times that he doesn’t usually make,” said Hibbert.

“He was a little disappointed, he is focusing on school as well. He is an all-around student athlete; he is incredibly bright in addition to his fantastic tennis game. It is a little disappointing for him, maybe it will motivate him to up the game a little bit going forward. He fought hard.”

Mathewson has been a big help at third singles for the Tigers.

“Garrett is playing fantastic tennis, he is left-handed and has a great all-around game coming in as a freshman,” said Hibbert of Mathewson who lost in the third singles final to Pennington’s Ishan Gupta in a hard-fought three-setter. “He brings a lot of experience from the tournaments. He has been doing fantastically well in the final, raising his game. He played a solid player and played him really well.

The second doubles pair of junior Kapur and freshman Kuo is developing into something special.

“It is a new pairing, it is a freshman/junior, Aman only saw time for us at the end of last season,” said Hibbert of the pair who edged Pennington’s Rishabh Ramaswamy and Shubh Gangrade 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 in their final.

When it really counted, he stepped in last year in a big way. He helped clinch two of the state matches for us. It is nice for him to get the opportunity to be in the lineup. Andrew comes with a really strong singles game. It is getting the two of them to mesh and became a doubles team. They had some amazing matches today. Against South, it was a tiebreak to get through. They had to fight through that match in the final, they had to play a third set. It is a long day for them but they really stepped up and it is fantastic.”

At first doubles, the duo of junior Medvedev and sophomore Zaveri fell 6-4, 6-4 to Prithvi Sunkavelli and Lukas Karapelou of WW/P-North in the semis before topping Oliver Silverio and Steven Li of PDS in the third place match.

“They had a bit of a shaky semi, it is the same exact result as the last time they played them,” said Hibbert. “They know they can do a little better, I am sure we will see them another time. We will just have to keep working on the consistency at the right time. It is a good pairing. They came back and won that third place match and that is a solid PDS team.”

Looking ahead to the upcoming state tournament, Hibbert believes that PHS can make a deep run in the wake of its championship performance at the MCT.

“We just have to keep focused and healthy,” said Hibbert, whose team is 6-0 in dual match play so far this spring. “We all had good draws to get all five through to the semi and four through the finals. It is a great showing and hopefully we will be able to build from there.”

Huang is confident that the Tigers will keep playing great over the final weeks of the season.

“With our team, this is the year,” said Huang. “Being able to take a title here means we can beat guys at states. We have a lot of depth and lot of high level players like Garrett and Jon. It gives us something to look forward to in our matches.”