Like many programs, the Montgomery High School girls tennis team needed to do some rebuilding to compete this season.
“We have a couple of freshmen that are very strong — Shannon Lu and Emily Roeper — and they’re still playing challenge matches,” said coach Cristina Venetucci, who had three starters from a year ago graduate, including her first and second singles players and three alternates.
“We haven’t had a chance to get all of our challenge matches in, but Emily keeps moving up and up.”
Venetucci expects to improve on last season, when the Cougars (14-6) reached the sectional finals but lost 3-2 to West Windsor-Plainsboro South. At first doubles, Kinjal Shah and Jessica Yang won the Somerset County Tournament.
Sophomore Emily Szkudlarski, last season’s third singles starter, will become the team’s standard-bearer. Lu earned the second singles spot. But the third singles and doubles lineup are still being decided, Venetucci said.
“Senior Jessica Yang has a good chance (at third singles),” Venetucci said, “but she could be challenged by Emily Roeper.”
Among the contenders for first doubles are senior Tiffany Zhu and junior Stephanie Allen, who were the No. 2 duo last season. Seniors Marcy Vanderbei and Kelsi Kamin, and junior Nicole Lorenzi are also in the running.
“Well, one of my goals is to get a win versus Pingry, and a win versus Bridgewater,” Venetucci said. “Last year they were the only teams to beat us twice. As far as Somerset County goes, I think we should have a good number of our positions hopefully get to the finals. And hopefully, we’ll make it to the sectional finals again — our goal this year is to win it.”
Lou Castelli is starting his first season at the helm of the Pingry School’s program.
Flexibility is a factor in his approach, said Castelli, who was the girls tennis coach at Kent Place School for nine years.
“I think your coaching philosophy has to be a fluid concept based on your team,” he said. “What I mean is everything I do and say and ask of the girls has to benefit all the girls on the team. It’s a very acute focus on the team and what the girls need to improve on and off the court.”
Though the team didn’t lose any starters, Castelli is tweaking his lineup. With Madison Stevens having the first singles spot, Junior Christina Zajkowski will reprise her role at second singles while senior Naomi Wong, who played first doubles last year, advanced to the third singles spot.
Steph Carr and Michaela Scrudato are slated for first doubles, and Jacquie Jakimowicz and Kelley Mao will hold the second doubles spot.
Pingry kicks off the season Tuesday against Hunterdon Central, a team Big Blue beat twice last year.
Castelli, who played tennis for Seton Hall University, shared his goals for the team.
“To improve every day,” Castelli said. “Pingry tennis is in a new era and expectations are very high in terms of work ethic every minute of every practice and match. To play with determination: If we work harder than the rest, the win-loss record will take care of itself.”
Ridge tweaks lineup
Ridge coach Chad Griffiths said having two players qualify for the NJSIAA Singles Tournament was among his team’s proudest achievements last season.
Kelly Williford at first singles and Elena Cerati at second singles competed among the state’s finest players. Williford made it to the quarterfinals.
The Red Devils graduated only two players — Williford and Lindsay Brynes at second doubles — and five starters are returning.
Griffiths offered his new lineup, which is not yet complete. At first singles, Cerati, a junior; Tracy Li and Akshaya Sekar are vying for second or third singles; and five contenders are battling for the doubles spots, including seniors Sherry Kuo, Maddie Booth, Claire Pearson, and sophomores Christine Wang and Katie Lemke.
“Bridgewater-Raritan is our opener Wednesday,” Griffiths said. “Bridgewater historically is stronger, but we always have a competitive match — most are 3-2, and many matches go three sets. We often meet up in the state team tournament in October.”