Seven players powered girls tennis to its Mercer County title last year, out of which only three remain. The core of last year’s team—Christina Rosca ’16, Rory Lewis ’15, Katelyn Hojeibane ’15 and Zhenia Dementyeva ’15—made up the top order of the team and have all departed, either heading to college or in the case of Rosca, focusing on her club team.
“Even though we’re facing the loss of many good players from last year … We’re still working hard to have a great season,” said Co-Captain Gillian Samios ’16.
An entirely new singles lineup headed by Samios meant that the Little Tigers would need time to adjust. While they started the season off on the right foot, winning 4–1 against Robbinsville High School, the girls learned that their title defense was not going to come easy with its 5–0 loss to West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, the team it edged out last year for the MCT title. Still, the Little Tigers rallied to defeat Ewing High School 5–0 with all three singles players winning in straight, bagel sets.
“We were all really nervous before the season started knowing we would be losing our top players, but as the season is going, we’ve been all trying to work harder to make up for that,” said Co-Captain Nikhita Salgame ’16.
The tennis MCT comes early in the season, which means that teams only have three to four matches under their belts before they need to launch into a title charge. With only four different teams winning the MCT title in the past 15 years, the odds seem stacked toward programs that are able to retain their varsity players.
“We have the potential to still compete with the best in the area. We have a lot of strong players; we focus on who’s here and who’s ready to play,” said Head Coach Sarah Hibbert.
The tournament is divided into sections with brackets made up of first, second, and third singles as well as first and second doubles. Every player earns points for the team so the Little Tigers have put an emphasis on playing for every point.
“We’ve been doing a lot [of drills] about working under pressure … You’re alone, you have no partner to help support you when you’re playing so when you’re playing down it can be a lot harder to come back up,” said Elise Gerdes ’17.
With several team sleepovers, picnics, and bonding events, cohesion on and off the court has been a focus for the girls. During the U.S Open Tennis Championships, the team journeyed to Flushing Meadows, NY, in order to watch several matches and get to know each other.
“People think [tennis is] an individual sport, but it’s not. A lot of us help each other because we’re so bonded,” Salgame said. “A lot of the strengths of the team come from the fact that we are a team.”
The players maintain team cohesion by joining club teams during the winter and spring in order to stay fit. Several players also participate in the Princeton Tennis Camp and run during the summer by the university. Hibbert and her varsity players view tennis as an all-year sport rather than a seasonal one.
The team will focus on closing out points going into the MCT, specifically working on its volleying ability. “We have to be more aggressive with volleys which is something we all need to work on and making sure the volleys are the last point,” Salgame said. In doubles, this is especially important with the pace of the rally being changed with every shot.
Going into the MCT with a 2–1 record, Hibbert acknowledges that while the team has shown strength in the early matches, it still has a ways to go. “Everyone is going to have to work hard this year, they aren’t going to get given points the same way they did in the past,” she said.