Cheers erupted just outside the Princeton High School gymnasium as a small crowd gathered to watch the boys tennis team take on Hopewell Valley Central High School in the NJSIAA/New Balance Central Jersey Group 3 State Sectional Championship. Parents stood around the tennis courts watching the Little Tigers in action, while teammates who had finished their matches lent their support as well. A short rally—finished off with an unforced error by Hopewell’s Patrick Blake—gave Co-Captain Rishab Tanga ’15 the match and ended the tournament.
“We had a really great run in sectionals. It was the first time [the team] has won it since 2008 so it was a great showing for this team,” said Head Coach Sarah Hibbert.
The team went into the championship match with a record of 15–2 after beating Hightstown High School in the sectional semifinals. Just as in the match against Hightstown, four of the five PHS singles and doubles teams won their matches in straight sets, closing out both rounds 5–0.
“We were pretty set in terms of singles because we knew [Hopewell] didn’t have a strong singles team going in … our biggest problem with doubles is probably focus right now but [the doubles teams] have been playing well recently,” said Andrew Lin ’16.
The singles teams capitalized on the overall team confidence with wins coming from Co-Captains Tyler Hack ’15 and Tanga as well as Noah Lilienthal ’18. Although just a freshman, Lilienthal has come to be known as a reliable force on the team according to his coaches. Lilienthal was crowned singles champion at the Mercer County Tournament after being seeded third and defeating the former champion from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South.
“[Having Lilienthal on the team] almost guarantees a victory for first singles. We know we have a reliable player and it adds a level of depth to our lineup,” Tanga said.
“It feels good [to be the MCT singles champion] but there’s still a lot of work to be done and hopefully I can keep improving through my high school career,” Lilienthal said.
That is not to say that this year’s team relied on one athlete alone; the players have earned a multitude of other awards. Lin and Andrew Wei ’16 were doubles champions at the MCT where overall the team finished second to WW-PS by one and a half points.
“First doubles winning the MCT gave [the team] confidence,” Tanga said. “Everyone knows they play an important role [on the team] because no matter where you are in the lineup you are worth the same amount of points.”
With silver medal in the MCT and a sectional championship in its pocket, the team advanced to the NJSIAA/New Balance Group 3 semifinals where it faced Tenafly High School. As the matches progressed, Tenafly seemed to be holding its ground. However, the Little Tigers emerged triumphant with Hack and Lilienthal winning their matches to advance the team to the NJSIAA/New Balance Group 3 finals after defeating Tenafly 3–2.
“We [wanted] to keep focused. We had just heard that Tenafly was pretty good, so the increased focus was to keep our spirits high [going into the state tournament],” Lin said.
In the final the team would face seven-time-consecutive champion, Millburn High School. Millburn defeated Princeton 5–0 to record Princeton’s third defeat of the year. The team finished the season with a record of 17–4.