Rumson-Fair Haven’s fifth-seeded girls tennis program earned its trip to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals with 3-2 victory over No. 4 Marlboro last Thursday, which included a convincing first singles victory by freshman phenom Camryn Short over the Mustangs’ talented senior Hayley Barnett by scores of 6-3 and 6-4.
On Monday, the Bulldogs’ run though the bracket ended at the rackets of top-seeded Holmdel, who lived up to the heading with a hard-fought 5-0 victory, blazing a trail to the program’s 10th consecutive SCT finals match.
“Holmdel always has such a deep team,” said Rumson-Fair Haven coach Maria Manley, “and the girls knew they were in for a tough one … but we did stay out here until 6:30. It was a long match and I think we gave Holmdel a scare there for a second. I couldn’t ask anything else of this team.”
The biggest fright for the Hornets came at the top singles spot where a classic match between Holmdel senior Alicia Lai and Short played out during a three-hour stretch.
After Lai took the first game, Short went on to win four consecutive en route to a 6-3 opening set victory. Short would drop the second set by a count of 6-2, setting up an extensive third set that would end 7-5 in favor of the senior, as Lai and Short both broke serve twice.
“Alicia refuses to give up at any point,” said Holmdel Coach Chuck Chelednik. “Part of her game is frustrating opponents by running down a lot of shots and making them hit an extra ball. But yet has the offensive skills to step in and take it to them.”
The second singles bout between Holmdel’s Sara Yan and Rumson-Fair Haven’s Sophie Pavluk also needed three sets for conclusion falling in favor of the Hornets’ sophomore by scores of 6-1, 3-6, and 6-2.
“It was nice to see Sarah pull out a third set,” said Chelednik, “because she really hasn’t played a match that’s gotten that far yet. I was interested to see if she would be a little more aggressive and go get it, and she did. It was nice to see that she had confidence in herself and in her game at that point in a match.”
Holmdel’s first doubles team of Nandini Krishnaswamy and Stephanie Pugh (6-1, 6-0), as well as the second doubles pairing of Angela Tu and Tiffany Chen (6-0, 6-2), each clinched points early in the match, while Lucy Wang helped to ensure the Hornets shutout with a 7-5, 6-2 victory at third singles.
Holmdel will move on to host No. 6 Freehold on Wednesday afternoon at the Ranney School for the SCT crown, a position the Colonials enter for the first time in school history after a 3-2 upset of second-seeded Manasquan on Monday.
“Going into the season we thought we’d have a nice year with the team we had returning,” said coach Jon Block after Freehold’s semifinals victory. “Then, with the addition of Michaela (Hlavata) we thought we had a chance to do something special, something that’s never never been done at this school.”
“We set our goals before the season,” Block continued, “and they were the Monmouth County Tournament finals and the SCT semis. So far we’ve surpassed both.”
Hlavata (6-4, 6-0) and Alexis Yu (6-4, 6-2) each captured singles points for the Colonials, however, it was Madison Conover and Renooka Carmarker’s 6-3, 6-4 victory at first doubles that eventually earned Freehold a championship bout with Holmdel.
“If you look at the history of the MCT and SCT you’re going to see mostly four schools with Holmdel at the top of the list,” said Block. “To be in a position to play against Holmdel is a feather in our cap. We know what’s ahead of us. But today was a big step for this program. Everything had to go right to beat Manasquan, and we’re excited it fell out way.”