Sophomore using season to help in recovery from surgery
By Justin Feil, The Packet Group
When the Princeton High School girls tennis team talks about returning six of its seven players from last year’s lineup, they are counting Chenchen Wang in the mix.
Wang, a sophomore, played in several key regular-season matches as a freshman last fall, but tore her ACL on the eve of the Mercer County Tournament and missed the Little Tigers’ third-place finish in the county, sectional championship and Group III state finals berth in their 20-1 season.
”Even though I wasn’t playing, I did my best to be there for a lot of the matches,” Wang said. “Even if I couldn’t, I was rooting them on. Even if I wasn’t there to play, it was an incredible season. I’m grateful to be back. I don’t have any regrets about the success of last year.”
The Little Tigers figure they could be even stronger as Wang returns to health. She originally waited following her knee injury to see if it would heal, but finally elected to have surgery to repair it. Now wearing a brace to support it, she has returned to the court just in time to contend for a spot in the PHS lineup.
”We’re all very excited to have Chenchen back in our lineup,” said PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert. “We all missed her last year. We’re really excited to having her return to our lineup and having her back on the court.”
Wang has been using the start of the preseason as inspiration to get back to playing full speed.
”I think I’m getting better with every match,” Wang said. “I think I’m getting back into it. I just played my first match coming back a few days ago. Every match I play, I feel a lot better. I’m really getting back into it now. I’m getting back into competition, which is exactly what I’m using this season for.
”Whatever happens, I’m game for doing whatever I can, whatever I can for the team.”
Wang was a big help last year in helping them to secure their unbeaten season in the Colonial Valley Conference. She helped PHS top eventual county team champion West Windsor-Plainsboro High South, 4-1. Those results have raised the expectations for this year’s group.
”We lost six out of seven (before last year) and ended up having this stellar 20-1 run,” Hibbert said. “That’s not expected. This year, we’re in the opposite extreme in that we have six coming back. They still have to fit in the doubles lineup. The key to our success has been our depth. Having strong doubles combinations will be a key to whether we have a successful season or not, and we lost key doubles players.”
Graduated are Maddie Cahill-Sanidas, who was one half of the county championship first-doubles team with Rory Lewis, as well as Lindsay Eberhart, who was on the MCT finalist second doubles team with this year’s lone senior, Allison Hubert.
”I think we’re all feeling really great as a team,” Wang said. “The girls are all really incredible. Expectations wise, I’m trying to get back into competition. I’m trying to see how I feel. I couldn’t think of a better way than with this team.”
Wang’s enthusiasm about returning is high. As much as she can help the team, the Little Tigers are helping her in her recovery by getting out on the courts every day to help her improve.
”It’s one of the best opportunities to play a lot,” Wang said. “On top of that, I think it’s wonderful because I get to play with this amazing group of girls. The team’s close and the environment is invaluable. I think it’s perfect, to be honest.”
Wang could end up in doubles with the development of returning singles players like Katelyn Hojeibane, Zhenia Dementyev and the development of Lewis, who gained confidence playing with Cahill-Sanidas for a year.
”I really am using preseason to see I feel,” Wang said. “This is me coming back into competition. Competition is pretty different. I’m happy with either singles or doubles. I’m game for any position, I want to do whatever I can for the team.”
More than anything, she is cherishing being back on the court after missing six months while going through rehabilitation following surgery.
”It was the biggest injury I ever had,” Wang said. “It’s definitely a challenging experience to get back from that. Getting back from an ACL tear takes a lot.
”You realize how much you love to be on the court for the sake of playing,” she added. “Just to be to get out the courts and play, you miss that.”
The Little Tigers know that this year they won’t be able to sneak up on any team, not after the success they enjoyed last year. PHS will get the best of every opponent as they try to repeat as CVC Valley Division champions and move up in the MCT standings.
”Right now, we’re still figuring out the lineup,” Wang said. “It’s pretty early. We have a lot of good competition around here. It’s really intense. It’s nice to go out and compete against all these good teams. We have really strong players. We’re really competitive with each other.”
That in-team competition is helping to push PHS to a higher level, but Hibbert is reluctant to embrace a favored role.
”I almost prefer to undersell what we have than oversell,” she said. “You’d rather be the dark horse that comes through and beats people rather than the team that has all the expectations and has to come through. We are young. We only have one senior. You never know how they’ll fare.
”Seeing what they could do last year made them all hungry. They want to do as well as they did last year. At least, they have the taste of winning and want to see what they can do.”
Wang is hoping she can provide a lift to the lineup as a returning player, one that didn’t get to finish out last year, but could be a factor in their success this year. It’s what she has been looking forward to since last year ended prematurely.
”I definitely wanted to be back by this season,” Wang said. “Of course, I really wanted to be back and play with this team for any reason. I have to prioritize my recovery and see how my rehab is going. With the way it’s moving and I’m back to playing and feeling really good, so it’s behind me and I can focus on getting back into competition.”