The Pingry School’s Madison Stevens got to know Taylor Ng’s aggressive game last season when they faced off at the NJSIAA singles championship.
Haddonfield’s Ng was the winner then, and she beat Stevens again Tuesday in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinals at the Garden State Tennis Center, helping her top-seeded team advance, 4-1, to the final against Millburn.
Stevens, who earlier this month led Big Blue to its first Non-Public A title since 2004, said she expected a very competitive match.
“I knew that Taylor has a strong game and I was trying to figure out a strategy around it,” Stevens said. “It was really difficult for me to get into a rhythm the entire time. She has an all-court game; I like working from the baseline. I wasn’t as consistent as I usually am, and it was difficult to form points when you’re missing.”
The fierce battle started in a 20-minute first game that went to deuce five times before Stevens broke Ng. But Ng broke right back, playing tough and coming to the net often.
Quickly down 1-4, Stevens then bounced back to win the next two games and seemed to be back in the set. Ng, however, raised her level as well, playing classic serve-and-volley tennis to snag the first set 6-3.
Ng stayed on the offensive in the second set, hitting deep from the baseline while attacking the net. She broke Stevens in the first game and never let up. Before long, she captured the second set 6-1, and the match.
“I did the best I could,” Stevens admitted, “and I’m okay with the way it turned out.”
Pingry coach Lou Castelli was hopeful, yet realistic, about his squad’s chances. Pingry has never reached a T of C final.
“I thought we played well today,” Castelli said. “Surely our doubles showed that they’re some of the most elite players in the state. Haddonfield was just too strong for us in the singles lineup. They played too big and we just couldn’t catch any momentum in singles.”
Fourth-seeded Pingry tasted victory only at second doubles. Senior Kelly Mao and freshman Jacquie Jakimowicz defeated Hoddenfield’s Chelsea Brown and Sylvia Strauss 6-2, 6-2.
“It was definitely intense,” said Mao. “I feel so happy, and I’m very proud of Jacquie. We work so well together – this is our first year playing together. We’re both playing doubles for the first time.”
Jakimowicz was also thrilled with the win.
“I feel great,” she said. “Kelly and I both played great. We had a slow start but caught on and played our game to finish up the match.”
At second singles, Pingry’s Christina Zagkowski lost (6-3, 6-1) to Amanda Lanciano.
Third singles standout Naomi Wong, a senior, fell 6-4, 6-1 to Haddonfield’s Victoria Martinez.
“I think I played really well, but the girl is a stronger player,” Wong admitted. “I’m just proud of everyone for getting this far.”
In a match that lasted almost three hours, Pingry’s first doubles, Stephanie Carr and Michaela Scrudato, dug themselves out of a 5-1 hole to win the first set in a tiebreaker. But Hoddenfield’s Erica Pascocello and Arpie Senopoulos claimed a 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 3-6 victory.