Only a truly dominating performance could remove all of the drama from the tight chase for the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament girls tennis team title that existed when Monday’s semifinals got under way.
Leave it to East Brunswick to deliver that kind of effort.
By winning at all five positions at Edison Park, East Brunswick, one of four teams separated by just one point at the top through the quarterfinals, clinched at least a share of its seventh straight GMCT title and needs just one point in Wednesday’s finals for the outright win. South Brunswick is alive and three points back of the lead, while J.P. Stevens and Wardlaw-Hartridge fell to third and fourth, respectively.
“It becomes an expectation,” East Brunswick coach Brian McInerney said. “But we have a healthy respect for all our opponents. There is strong competition in Middlesex County and everyone wants to take out the top team, but these girls deal with the pressure very well.”
The Bears extended their run of success with a mix of new faces – freshman Jennifer Chen at first singles – and old faces in new places – defending GMCT first-singles champion Hannah Molk at second singles and former second-singles player Anastasia Mogilevski at first doubles with Adelina Begu.
“I was disappointed but I quickly got over it,” Mogilevski said of not playing singles. “My main thing is to be there for the team. Playing doubles gives me a chance to play more at the net. I feel like I’m more well-rounded now.”
Few understand the program’s winning tradition as well as third singles player Danna Tsay, whose two older sisters are past GMCT champions.
“Every year we lose starters and it means a lot knowing we’re still good enough to continue,” she said.
Results of the 10 semifinal matches went almost entirely according to form, with South Brunswick’s first-doubles pairing of Mara Stegaru and Avni Bali becoming the only lower seed to win. They avenged a recent loss to J.P. Stevens.
“Today was really important to us,” Stegaru said. “We won the first set from the last match so we knew we could do it. Going to the finals my senior year feels great. I just want to win it.”
Stegaru-Bali joined teammates Rachel Rebello (second singles) and Tonya KrishaKumar (third singles) – both of whom also knocked off rivals from J.P. Stevens – in the finals.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the team today,” coach Nancy McDonald said. “At the start of the day I reiterated to them, ‘You can be super competitive with J.P. Stevens.’ They played pretty inspired.”
First-singles top seed Katie Buchbinder (Wardlaw-Hartridge) and second-doubles pairing Michelle Chen-Nandita Munindra (J.P. Stevens) will be their teams’ lone representatives in the finals. Chen-Munindra overcame a first-set loss to win the only three-set match of the day and help the Hawks avoid going 0-for-5.
Meanwhile, second-year GMC member Wardlaw-Hartridge, which moved up to the White Division this season, showed it can hang with the perennial powers despite losing three semifinal matches.
“It means a lot to the girls who have worked hard over the years to get to this point, and I like the way that this puts us on the map,” coach Ron Haynes said. “I told them, ‘Don’t be intimidated because we’re coming here 8-0 (as a team) for a reason – and that’s because of our play.'”