Hawk girls earn share of Red Division title

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

EDISON — Despite a 3-2 loss to conference rival East Brunswick last week, the J.P. Stevens High School girls tennis team will share the Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division title this year with the Bears.

Heading into the match, the J.P. Stevens Hawks posted 11 straight conference victories, including one in which they handed East Brunswick their only loss in the conference.

That defeat ended E.B.’s string of 12 consecutive years without a loss in division play. The Hawks held on to a share of the Red Division title, with wins over North Brunswick and Piscataway later in the week.

"We played a lot of top 20 teams this year," coach Ellen Pisano said. "My girls stepped up to the challenge, and the tough schedule has paid off."

The conference championship is the crowning achievement in a season that has seen Pisano’s players earn many personal victories.

At No. 1 singles, sophomore Lucy Zhang became the talk of this year’s state tournament for individual play, as she was the only unseeded player to make the quarterfinals. In the tournament, Zhang won each of her first four matches in straight sets before bowing out to Summit High School’s Anna Mungo.

"Winning her first two matches really boosted her confidence," Pisano said. "After beating Emily Herb from Cherry Hill East, people began to take notice. It was an amazing run for Lucy, and she beat two seeded players before losing in the quarterfinals."

In addition to the run in the state tournament, Zhang was this year’s champion at the GMC flight tournament. A finalist last year, Zhang took home this year’s title along with team­mate Maria Kuznetsova.

The Hawks’ No. 3 singles player, Kuznetsova won the flight tournament for the second consecutive year. A senior, Kuznetsova has provided leadership for the young team, along with fellow seniors Dawn Kay and Priya Sachdeva at the No. 2 doubles position.

No. 2 singles player, junior Ryan Johnson also qualified for play in the sin­gles state tournament with an undefeated record. Johnson won her first match be­fore exiting in the second round.

"Qualifying as an undefeated player is quite an accomplishment," Pisano said. "She proved she belonged in the tourna­ment with her first-round victory."

Junior Nicole Kesselman and sopho­more Jo-Ming Chiang at No. 1 doubles took third at the GMC flight tourna­ment earlier in the season.

"They showed a lot of guts to come back after a loss and win the consolation match," Pisano said.

In other tournament action, the Hawks made it to the semifinals of the state tournament for team play before losing to eventual state champion Bridgewater-Raritan High School.

With four of the top seven players re­turning next season, the Hawks will look to finish at the top of the GMC Red Divi­sion, and contend for state championships at the No. 1 singles position and in the team tournament, once again.

"I will miss all three of our seniors, but we will have a good team next year," Zhang said. "Everyone is so supportive on this team, and it’s a really close-knit group. It all comes from coach Pisano. She’s a great coach and she makes us great competitors."