Tennis wins county and sectional championships

photo: Rhea Braun

photo: Rhea Braun

As the leaves begin to fall, the girls tennis team can look back on a season in which it won the Mercer County Tournament and NJ Central Group 3 Sectionals, and reached the final of the Group 3 State Tournament. This year, the team won its first MCT title in 30 years and its fourth consecutive NJ Central Group 3 championship.

“Winning the MCTs was a really special addition to the things we’d been looking to accomplish,” said Co-Captain Zhenia Dementyeva ’15.

The team went 15–3 over the course of the season, losing twice to West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, a team ranked second in the state and only once to Millburn High School. The girls, most of whom are returners from last season, won 11 of these matches by scores of 5–0.

“The fact that everyone’s basically still [playing] and a year older is really great because everyone really improved over the year … Everyone worked hard throughout the year and came back stronger,” said Katelyn Hojeibane ’15. While last year the team lacked experience with only one senior, the team retained six out of seven of its varsity players from last year and now has three seniors on the team.

One of the team’s goals from the beginning of the season was to advance to the Tournament of Champions, a competition for the six state winners from all the groups. They were unable to achieve this goal.

Early in the postseason, the girls were able to turn disappointment into results, using the MCT frustrations of 2012 and 2013 to motivate themselves. As seniors, Hojeibane, Dementyeva and Rory Lewis ’15 knew that this would be their last chance to win the competition and were able to capitalize on their final opportunity.

“[Winning the MCTs] was really great because every year we’ve been working to get closer and closer to the title. In [2012] we got third place, [and] in [2013] we got second so it’s a culmination of the things we were working toward every year,” said Lewis. Going into the second day of the tournament, the team was only one point in the lead, but the advancement of all five players on the second day allowed the girls to win the MCTs.

In contrast to last year, the athletes were able to remain injury-free in their run to the postseason, which gave them an added advantage in the tournament season. Last year, Chenchen Wang ’16, a varsity player, was injured in the weeks leading up to the MCT.

“We haven’t had any injuries really and everyone has been playing in the position they were supposed to be which is really good because in the last few years we had some bad luck,” said Lewis.

A week after winning the MCT the team began the sectional tournament, during which it defeated Middletown South High School, Hopewell Valley Central High School, and Ocean Township High School. All three games were won 5–0. In the final against Ocean Township, players were spurred on by a small crowd, and according to Chris Rosca ’16 the team benefitted from the home-court advantage. The day culminated with Lewis finishing off the clinching game and the team celebrating its third consecutive sectional title.

“It was a really great accomplishment,” said Gillian Samios ’16.

After playing with each other for a number of years a strong bond had formed between the players, a connection they used throughout their season to encourage each other.

“We all get along really well, so I think that helped because when you get along as a group it’s easier to get focused and do well for the team,” said Rosca. “Not only do you want to win for yourself but you also want to win for the team.”

While the end of the season marked a sad farewell for the seniors, the team can look forward to maintaining its momentum.  “Each year the team got better and better—each year was a build up [to this season] …  so winning [the MCTs and sectional title] was really exciting … It was a big deal and awesome and everyone played [amazingly],” Hojeibane said.  “I’m really happy that we’re going out with a bang.”

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