While the Hightstown High girls’ tennis team turned in another impressive performance on its way to a third straight Mercer County Tournament title, the balance in the rest of the county could be seen in the battle for second place.
Princeton High, led by the first doubles flight title from Jordan Johnson and Isabella Lependorf, finished second to the Rams.
Hightstown finished with 25.5 points to coast to the team title. Princeton placed second with 18.5 points, while the Hun School finished fifth with 15.5 points.
Princeton Day School, led by Grace Marshall, the champion at third singles, came in seventh with 14 points.
Stuart Country Day School was 11th with nine points. Just 4.5 points separated the second-place Little Tigers from eighth-place Steinert.
The tournament, which was held at Mercer County Park's Outdoor Tennis Center, concluded on Sept. 27.
“We did get second by a point and a half, which was nice,” Princeton coach Sarah Hibbert said. “It was a close battle so we were happy that we were able to get up to second. Hightstown was out in front after first day and then six teams were within a point of each other. So we were very pleased to come in as close as we did.”
Princeton’s first doubles team of Johnson, a senior, and Lependorf, a freshman, captured its flight title with a 7-6, 6-3 victory over West Windsor-Plainsboro North’s Sabrina Chang and Kirthi Chigurupati.
“First doubles did a great job,” Hibbert said. “They had a tough road with Peddie in the first round and then PDS, (WW-P) South and North. So that was a tough road. They played a nice match in the final. It is a new pairing and for both of them it is their first real varsity experience. So we were very pleasantly surprised.”
Princeton’s Nicole Samios finished third at the third singles flight, while the Little Tigers’ Sora Sato and Adriana Todorov were fourth at second doubles. For the team at No. 1 doubles, the flight title was a nice way to head into the state tournament.
“We knew they had a lot of potential but you never know how things will go when the pressure is on for the first time,” said Hibbert, whose team is the No. 3 seed in the Central Jersey, Group IV state sectional tournament and was scheduled to open play on Thursday against 14th-seeded North Brunswick. “Looking at the draw we knew (first doubles) didn’t have any easy rounds. We felt like if the could get through the first day they would be prepared for the semifinals. They played well.”
Princeton finds itself in a tough section in the state sectional tournament, where Montgomery is the No. 1 seed and Hightstown is seeded No. 2.
“It is a really tough section, probably one of the toughest in the state,” Hibbert said. “We will come out each match and hope for the best and see what happens. It’s nice to go into the states after a good county tournament. Overall we were pleased with the outcome. We got contributions from everyone and every flight got at least two points.”
Hun’s first-year coach Antonio Balson was pleased with the effort from his team, which finished fifth. The Raiders picked up fourth-place finishes from Sophia Lin at first singles and Jackie Drozd at third singles, while second singles player Alexis English won the consolation bracket.
“We were fifth out of 19, so we were happy with that,” Balson said. “It’s always difficult for a team when you have a new coach and everyone is trying to get settled. Our No. 1, Sophia, this was first time she played all season. So she was a little rusty. She did a phenomenal job, especially the first day played when she had to play seven sets. She won an 8-game pro set and then two matches that were three sets each. She lost the first set and won the next two in both matches.”
Lin had reached the semifinals at first singles a year ago as a freshman. But she came into this year’s MCT having not played a match and was unseeded. Drozd also made a nice run to get to the semifinals.
“For Jackie this is her first time playing singles and I was happy with her performance,” Balson said. “Alexis lost her first match and then she played the consolation round and won that for second singles, which was nice.
“To a certain extent we were playing as the underdog. I went into the (seeding) meeting not knowing where we stood because I did not know the other teams and we had only played two matches. So we played a bit of the underdog and it worked out.”
The Raiders took a 2-2 record into the opening round of the state Prep A tournament, which was being played on Wednesday.
“Considering this is my first year coaching them, I am very happy with the team,” Balson said. “The spirit is very good and the girls are fantastic to work with. I am very happy with the way it is going.”
PDS finished seventh as a team and came away with the flight title at third singles whenMarshall defeated Melissa Liu of WW-P South in a four-hour marathon match, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6.
“It was a great win for her,” PDS coach Will Asch said. “It was a four-hour match in the final and it was a war of wills. The other girl was so fast. Grace was afraid to hit it hard because she could always get it back. The other girl didn’t miss anything. There were a lot of drop shots and lobs.”
While the Panthers finished seventh, they were right in the mix with several other teams right behind Hightstown.
“I think Hightstown was quite a bit better than everyone else,” Asch said. “I don’t think the other teams were incredible. It was possible to do better, but don’t think we could have competed with Hightstown. They were head and shoulders above everyone else.”
The Panthers will play in the state Prep B tournament beginning Oct. 14. They’ll be looking to make a run at a state title against a talented field.
“I don’t know a lot about the other teams,” Asch said. “I know Prep B was strong last year. The only team we have seen is Pennington. I have heard (Gill-St. Bernard’s) is very good this year. We will see how we do. We picked up some good players this year but we lost quite a few good players as well.”