May 10, 2023

Sparked by Senior Zang’s Play, Upbeat Approach, PHS Girls’ Golf Making History in Debut Season

MAKING HISTORY: Members of the Princeton High girls’ golf team are all smiles after they placed first in the Mercer County Tournament last Wednesday at the Mercer Oaks East course. Pictured, from left, are head coach Jess Monzo, Jacqueline Zang, Rachel McInerney, Tia Sindu, Raima Srivastava, and Madeleine Zang. The Tigers, who are in their first year as an official program, had a team score of 327 to defeat runner-up WW/P-South by 10 strokes. PHS went on to take second in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey Sectional Tournament at Stanton Ridge Golf Club in Whitehouse Station last Monday. The Tigers are next in action when they compete in the State Championships on May 16 at the Raritan Valley Country Club in Bridgewater.

By Bill Alden

When Madeleine Zang came to Princeton High in 2019, she wasn’t sure if there was an avenue at the school for her to pursue a passion for golf.

“I was hoping there was some sort of golf team or something, hopefully a girls team,” said Zang, who started playing competitively as an 8-year-old in New York and moved to the Princeton area before starting high school. “There was no girls’ team; when I started out freshman year, there was just a coed team.”

Zang played with the boys, emerging as a key performer for the squad.

“It was actually a very good experience, it was a lot of fun,” said Zang. “Playing golf on a team is very different than playing as an individual. It is really good for my game and also just to connect with others. There are a lot of amazing players in New Jersey among the guys so that was a good experience.”

PHS has started an official girls’ program this spring and senior Zang is relishing the squad’s debut campaign.

“I have to say getting to play with a full girls’ team and getting to play against other girls in our county and within our state is an amazing experience,” said Zang. “I played on a girls’ team in middle school, but it wasn’t the same as getting to play alongside other PHS girls. We are all super interested in the game of golf. Getting to play competitively with them in 9-hole matches after school is great.”

The fledgling program has made history in the last week. Last Wednesday, PHS placed first in the Mercer County Tournament at the Mercer Oaks East course. The Tigers had a team score of 327 to defeat runner-up WW/P-South by 10 strokes. Zang’s younger sister, sophomore Jacqueline, placed second individually with a one-over 73. Senior Zang took fourth at 76.

On Monday, the Tigers went on to take second in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey Sectional Tournament at Stanton Ridge Golf Club in Whitehouse Station with Zang finishing second individually, carding an even-par 72. The Tigers had a team score of 336, 25 strokes behind champion Wardlaw-Hartridge.  PHS is next in action when it competes in the State Championships on May 16 at the Raritan Valley Country Club in Bridgewater.

Playing with her younger sister Jacqueline has been special for Zang.

“She has been playing amazing, the sister bond is really there with on and off the golf course,” said Zang. “We do push each other and we help each other as much as possible. We are both like each other’s biggest supporters. If I am having trouble with my swing, she will come look at it. I will help her with her swing. It is a friendly competition. If I’m on the golf course and I am playing worse than her and she is playing better, she will poke fun at me.”

In the MCT, Zang didn’t play her best early in the round but rallied to take fourth.

“I had a rough start in the beginning; I was a little disappointed about that but I turned it around on the back nine,” said Zang. “I tried the best I could. It was a lot of fun, I was really happy.”

Zang was more than happy about how the PHS squad performed collectively in winning the title.

“I was really proud of the team and how well we played, everybody broke a 100,” said Zang. “Jacqueline played really well, I was really proud of her. Everyone on the team really stepped up on Wednesday, it was amazing to see. We played in the MCT last year as an unofficial girls’ team and placed second and lost by two strokes. Definitely coming in this year with pretty much the same lineup of girls, we were really hoping to play some great golf.”

The girls have bonded as they have gone through their debut campaign. “First and foremost, everyone is really interested in golf and they want to play well,” said Zang. “We have a really, really good group dynamic. We are all team players. We are all looking to play the best as we can as a team — we are all here to support each other. It is really special because it is our first girls’ team. We played together as an unofficial girls team but now that we have a team, it is great.”

Going forward, Zang is excited to be joining another great team as she has committed to attend Penn and play for its women’s golf program.

“If I can play with amazing girls on a golf ream with a team dynamic, I think that is going to be an amazing experience,” said Zang. “During the prioress of recruitment I was talking to a lot of coaches. The academics was the most important in deciding the college I was going to. I also wanted to play on a team where the girls are going to be practicing really hard to perform the best they can.”

PHS head coach Jess Monzo was thrilled with how his team performed in winning the MCT.

“They were so excited, they saw what the boys did (winning the MCT on April 25), they knew they could do the same,” said Monzo. “They wanted to show what they could do, their abilities and their skills, and they did that.”

In addition to their skill and ability, the squad brings an upbeat mentality to the course.

“A lot of it is the fact that they are so, so positive all of the time,” said Monzo. “They are positive about themselves, they are positive about each other. They are positive about every girl who is hitting a golf ball. Even when I hit a golf ball, they say hey coach it went straight this time.”

The Zang sisters set a positive tone with how they go about their business.

“They are tremendous, it is like having an ace in the hole; it is like in wrestling, coming down to your last kid on the mast and he is a state qualifier,” said Monzo, who is also the head coach of the PHS wrestling team. “You have all of the
confidence in the world in that kid doing the job. It is the same thing with these girls. They can’t do enough for our team. They are leaders on the golf course, they are leaders in the classroom. They strive for perfection everywhere they go and I think that really helps them. The rest of the team really builds off of it.”

In the MCT, some of the other players on the team stepped up as Tia Sindu tried for 12th with an 87 and Raima Srivastava tied for 18th at 91.

“It was awesome, they were all finished before my group was finished,” recalled Monzo. “When I came back to speak to them, I asked how everybody doing and they said, ‘we all broke 100’ and I said, ‘that is terrific.’ For all of them to go that low and hit a little below what their 9-hole average is is great.”

A key to the team’s success is the way the players strive to be great.

“Having those girls and the amount of time they put into the game of golf, I am not surprised in how they shoot,” said Monzo. “But I know when they come off the course every day they say, ‘I could have done
better here, I could have done better there.’ They are always nitpicking and running their rounds over in their head, looking where they can improve. It sets them apart from other players.”

Looking ahead to the sectional, Monzo sensed that PHS was ready for another big performance.

“The positivity is so contagious, once they start doing well and believing that what they are doing is working, you really can’t stop them,” said Monzo. “They are tremendous, they are a great group of girls. The next two weeks are going to be a lot of fun. We know what we have to do and we talked a little bit about it. I am just hoping that when Monday shows up, we will get on the bus and end up being part of something special.”

Zang, for her part, was confident that the Tigers would build on their MCT success.

“I have a lot of faith in our team,” said Zang. “I think this year whether we have played really well or play poorly, we are still going to be super excited to be there and play together. I can’t wait to see everyone up there; I know it is going to be really amazing to see all of these teams.”