September 13, 2023

Featuring New Faces, Facing New Foes in Move to CVC, PDS Girls’ Tennis Primed for Exciting 2023 Campaign

By Bill Alden

Losing a trio of key seniors from last year’s squad to graduation, the Princeton Day School girls’ tennis team will be featuring some new faces in new places.

In addition to a revamped lineup, PDS will also be facing a new slate of foes as it’s playing a full Colonial Valley Conference schedule for the first time.

“As an independent school, the regular season matches you always want to win but they are more about maneuvering to get ready and seeded for tournaments,” said PDS head coach Michael Augsberger, whose program said goodbye to single stars Neha Khandkar and Amy Zhou along with doubles standout Josephine Baranski from a squad that went 9-6 in 2022 and advanced to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public state final last year.

“Now they have that additional meaning of trying to win the league. And we’re lucky to be surrounded by such strong tennis schools. The league title means as much as the others we fight for. The girls’ schedule was always packed, and now it’s even more so. Getting enough rest and relying on depth in the lineup becomes even more important.”

At first singles, junior Arya Kalra has made a strong statement, going from second doubles to the top spot in the lineup.

“She has played a lot of doubles the last couple of years, she has proven herself,” said Augsberger. “I think this year from last year especially, she has made a big leap. She was second doubles last year, a little bit of first. She was able to defeat the singles players that we have, that is a big leap for someone who has played doubles the last couple of years. She has been playing in a lot of tournaments. She was clearly spending a lot of time on tennis in the offseason and improving.”

Junior Kristina Wang is one constant in the lineup as she returns at second singles.

“Kristina has gotten a little more perspective on the game now,” said Augsberger. “She can beat pretty much anybody at second or third singles. She play offensive tennis or she can moon ball it back and forth and adapt her style the way she needs to. It is about maintaining the composure for her and trying not to feel the pressure too much. I think that she has gained the perspective now being a senior. Now that she is a team leader, she understands where tennis fits in the grand scheme of things.”

At third singles, freshman Prisha Tiwari appears ready to face the pressure of making the jump to high school tennis.

“There are people who are athletes and there are people who are tennis players. I say that as a positive both ways,” said Augsberger. “An athlete is someone who may not play USTA (U.S. Tennis Association) tournaments and who may not be fully technically there, but knows the game and knows spacing. Prisha is a tennis player. She plays tournaments, she knows the USTA system, and she is ranked. She has a big upside, she has great technique. To have a freshman that is confident and combative like that, you want that to infiltrate the rest of the team.”

Augsberger has a number of options at doubles as freshman Zarna Kalra, junior Kavita Amin, senior Ashlyn Du, senior Hannah Park, junior Vera Goliyad, and freshman Shuchi Vanga could all see action.

“I can see a lot of rotation there, we will be trying a couple of different pairings in the next couple of weeks to see what fits,” said Augsberger, noting that assistant coach Jon Brown, the program’s doubles specialist, is entering his 15th season with the team and has played a key role in developing doubles depth for the Panthers.

“Zarna is a new addition, she is Arya’s sister. She is a very strong player, so do we pair her with someone who has experience, or do we pair her with someone who she has the best chemistry with? We are trying to sort that — there are a couple of different ways we can go. Kavita, Ashlyn, and Hannah are ones that we think are going to be starters. Ashlyn is the strongest singles player. Vera Goliyad came from Princeton last year; we know the strength of that team over there and how good she is with her volley. She and Shuchi Vanga are also in the mix.”

With the Mercer County Tournament starting on September 18, PDS will face a good test in the highly competitive event.

“At the counties, so much of it depends on the draw,” said Augsberger. “There are definitely a lot of teams we can beat and then there are teams that we run into that are a big challenge. The draw is a big factor in the counties.”