PRINCETON: Hojeibane helps Little Tigers reach semis

PHS girls tennis eyes sectional crown

By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
   West Windsor-Plainsboro High North doubles partners Nicky Charan and Jessica Mao showed they could be something special together at the Mercer County Tournament.
   The Knight seniors fell behind, 5-0, in the third set of their second-round second doubles match before rallying to reel off seven straight games and win the match. They went on to finish third.
   ”Ever since then, we felt we can always come back from any situation,” Charan said. “Ever since then, it gave us a boost. We know we can come back. We’re never afraid. If we’re losing, we can come back. I think that match helped us out. It’s the highlight for our season so far.”
   Now playing first doubles for the Knights, Charan and Mao helped WW-P North advance to the Central Jersey Group IV state tournament semifinals with a 3-2 win over Freehold Borough on Tuesday. Freehold and WW-P North came in with one loss apiece, and Freehold won the top two flights, but the Knights earned wins in the bottom three flights. Sai Dhulipalla and Ranjitha Vasa won at second doubles, 6-2, 6-4, Charan and Mao were 6-4, 6-4 winners and Audrey Chen was the one who had to rally to a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 win at third singles.
   ”Audrey came through,” said Knights head coach Richard Arnold after his team improved to 10-1. “She won the match for us. Audrey had the tough match.
   ”Freehold, they had a good No. 1 and No. 2, but the rest were beatable. The only loss they had was to Holmdel, which is a good team. And they beat Manasquan, which is also a good team. They were 12-1. That was a good win.”
   The Knights’ win pushed the No. 5 seeds into a semifinal scheduled for Thursday after Packet deadline against sister school West Windsor-Plainsboro South. The top-seeded Pirates were 5-0 winners over South Brunswick as Claudia Siniakowicz, Haley Rich and Caroline Zhou swept the singles, while Angela Li and Sanjana Ravi at first doubles and Margaret MacArthur and Angela Weng at second doubles also had straight-sets wins.
   In the bottom half of the CJ IV draw, third-seeded Montgomery was scheduled to face second-seeded East Brunswick. The Cougars defeated Hunterdon Central, 4-1, Tuesday as Shannon Lu and Lily Chu won at second and third singles respectively, and the first doubles team of Stephanie Allen and Emily Roeper and the second doubles of Nicole Lorenzi and Kim Szakats both won to extend their state run. Three of the four semifinalists are Packet-area teams.
   ”It was pretty close,” Mao said. “I think we all gave our best effort. We really wanted to face South. We haven’t played them yet. I think our third singles, she lost the first set and she came back and found her rhythm. I think it takes a bit of warming up for us.”
   It’s the same for Charan and Mao. They just needed a few matches together to find their rhythm. Mao has been in the singles lineup since she moved into it partway through her freshman year. Charan had earned a spot in the lineup last year, but a shoulder injury sidelined her. Princeton High is the only doubles team to knock off the pairing this season.
   ”I think we mixed well,” Charan said. “We’re both good at the baseline and good at the net. Our doubles came together well. I know she can hit her shots back and forth and her volleys. I feel like her volleys are really good. And my baseline shots are good. We trust each other.”
   Mao had only a few matches in doubles as a freshman before moving into the singles lineup due to an injury, but she’s familiar enough with doubles play.
   ”I haven’t been playing a lot of doubles for the team, but it’s kind of like a hobby,” she said. “I play a little bit of doubles with my dad. Sometimes in the past, I’ve played some doubles for fun in tournaments. I have more experience than people would expect.
   ”Doubles is really fun. I played second doubles for a bit freshman year and that was a really good experience. Doubles is a much more different game than singles. I think that’s what makes it a lot of fun to play.”
   Charan also appreciates having someone on the court with her. Together, they rallied to start their year with a dramatic comeback at counties, and it has taken off from there.
   ”For both of us, it was a whole different experience,” Charan said. “Our hearts were racing so fast.
   ”Really we weren’t even looking at the scores. We took it point by point. We weren’t even saying, win this game. We were saying, win this point and then win this point. We’d say, this worked, try it again, don’t be afraid of your shots.”
   Whenever the Knights are in a tough match, they can fall back on their play in that match to inspire them to finish the year well.
   ”We still look back on it,” Mao said. “It was a big source of motivation for our team — it shows anything is possible, keep trying. That’s probably the greatest comeback I’ve ever made.”