For Holmdel first singles player Derek Liu, the painful memory of how his 2011 season ended proved to be just the right motivation he and his teammates needed for 2012.
Holmdel was defeated by Millburn in the NJSIAA Group III semifinals last season. That fueled a burning desire to come back and win a group championship this season.
“From the start, I knew this year was not about me individually,” Liu said. “Coming into this season, I knew we had a pretty special team that had the potential to make a strong run in states.”
The combination of seasoned veterans and fresh new talent, along with the move from Group III to Group II, gave the the Hornets confidence they could make a state championship run this season.
Holmdel’s confidence as a team was evident all season. It won the Shore Conference Tournament title and the Monmouth County Flights Tournament. Its strong play continued all through the NJSIAA Tournament, as it eventually metg Haddonfield in the Group II championship match.
For Liu and his teammates, it was a shot at redemption. However, little did Liu know the shot would rest completely on his shoulders.
With the match deadlocked 2-2, the match came down to first singles, where Liu and Haddonfield’s Taylor Duffy had just split sets.
Unfortunately for Liu, he began severely cramping at the end of the second set and could hardly move from side to side on the baseline.
“During the end of the second set, it was so bad that I was thinking about retiring,” Liu said. “My teammates’ support the entire third set really helped me pull through that match.”
After dropping the first three games, Liu began to feel his legs come back to him, and forced a third-set tiebreaker.
“Even during that match, the memory of our loss last year kept coming back to me,” Liu said. “There wasn’t a moment in that last set where I forgot how hard we worked to get where we were.”
All that work eventually paid off, as Liu was able to win the tiebreak 7-4, and give Holmdel its first NJSIAA group title in 10 years.
This year proved to be a huge learning experience for the junior, as he heads into his final year at Holmdel.
Liu was unable to compete in the NJSIAA Individual Tournament due to lower back problems, and hopes there won’t be any issues in his final season.
“I will be looking to improve my fitness the most next season,” Liu said. “Overall, if I can move better on the court, I will be able to hit the shots that I want to hit.”