In 2012, inconsistency out of the top singles slot didn’t quite hamstring the Holmdel girls tennis program, as the Hornets dominated local competition en route to a Group II sectional title, however, according to coach Chuck Chelednik, at times it was worth noting.
Entering 2013, Chelednik penciled senior Alicia Lai into the first singles position, and with that placement he has has seen a noticeable difference in focus and intensity at the top of his lineup.
“I’m proud of her (Lai),” said Chelednik following the Hornets’ 5-0 victory over Class A Central rival Red Bank Catholic on Wednesday afternoon. “She’s playing really well. She works hard and trains hard, and has held her own at first singles after playing the two all last year.”
“Alicia is extremely focused on every task she does,” continued Chelednik, “whether it’s schoolwork or tennis, she’s very task-oriented with a detailed game plan for each match. I’ll always get the best out of her, and that’s all I can ask for.”
Lai entered Wednesday’s meeting with the Caseys on the back of a three-plus hour marathon match with Manasquan’s Abby Duddy on Tuesday, an outing Chelednik called the best singles match he’s seen the senior play in two years, despite the outcome falling in favor of her opponent 7-5, 7-5.
Lai followed up that defeat by clinching a point in the sweep of Red Bank with an impressive win over the Caseys’ Jenna Giordano.
Lai jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first set, and extended it to 4-1, before taking the opening set by a score of 6-2.
With a game composed of finesse, accuracy, and athleticism, Lai was able to repeat the process against the powerful-play of Giordano on the way to another 6-2 win in the second set.
“One of my strong points is my athleticism,” explained Lai, “I can run pretty well. Coach (Chelednik) explained to us coming into the season that since we lost Katie (McKay) and Lauren (Byrket) and Tiffany (Huang) we would have to hunt down a lot of balls and never give up on anything, and that fits, because that’s how I’ve always played.
“Against a powerful player like Jenna (Giordano) who has a good serve, I sat back a little more than I normally would to conserve some energy. With her style comes some inconsistency, and I hoped that she would mishit on some shots before I had to exert max effort. Because no one wants to have to run up and smack every ball every time. I waited for the right opportunities to do that.”
Holmdel sophomore Sara Yan earned a second singles victory over Rebecca Bauer by scores of 6-0, 6-1.
“Our depth has been good this year,” said Chelednik, “and that has a lot to do with Sarah (Yan). She moved up from second doubles to second singles, and has probably returned as our most improved player.”
The Hornets’ Lucy Wang overcame Red Bank junior Collette Gilbert by scores of 3-6 and 7-5, but the Caseys’ junior went down fighting forcing her opponent to win a 10-6 tie breaker before capturing the second set.
Nandini Krishnaswamy and Stephanie Pugh clinched a first doubles point (6-0, 6-2) for Holmdel while the Hornets second doubles pairing of Angela Tu and Emily Kong helped to complete the sweep with a 6-0, 6-1 win.
However, what may be the most intriguing news of the day was that Holmdel’s starting lineup, as well as Marlboro’s top singles player Hayley Barnett, will not be participating in this weekend’s Monmouth County Tournament (MCT) at Tindal Park in Middletown.
Due to a scheduling conflict that will place the Hornets’ top players in the Moorestown Classic, which features Haddonfield, Westfield, Moorestown, and other top New Jersey programs, Cheldenik has entered a cast of non-starters into the MCT, hampering Holmdel’s chances to successfully defend its 2012 title.