The Holmdel girls tennis team returned to Ranney High School on Wednesday for its 10th consecutive Shore Conference Tournament finals appearance, to face Freehold, which was making its finals debut.
Holmdel successfully defended its title with a 4-1 victory, utilizing roster depth to do so. Its first-doubles tandem of Nandini Krishnaswamy and Stephanie Pugh (6-0, 6-0) and second-doubles pairing of Angela Tu and Tiffany Chen (6-3, 6-2) both clinched points, lifting their team to an early 2-0 lead.
“Our doubles teams played real well again and continue to take pressure off our singles players by getting quick wins,” said Holmdel coach Chuck Chelednik. “They were able to get off to a fast start and set a good tone for this match. We talked about them coming in and being aggressive and getting two points early, and they did that.”
After Freehold’s Michaela Hlavata – the top singles player in the Shore – earned an impressive 6-0, 6-1 win over Holmdel’s talented leader Alicia Lai at first singles, the Hornets’ Sarah Yan secured a fourth point at second singles (6-3, 6-1). But it was senior Lucy Wang who clinched the program’s seventh SCT title with a 7-5, 6-1 third-singles victory over Monmouth County champion Alexis Yu.
“It feels really great to win this championship,” said Wang, “because even though we lost some key senior players to graduation, I think we came back with a more improved lineup, and after winning this one, I’m excited to see how far we can go in the state tournament.”
Holmdel enters the Central Jersey Group II bracket as the No. 1 seed and defending champion, and has a bye to the second round. It will face No. 9 Raritan, which earned a 4-1 first-round upset over eighth-seeded A.L. Johnson on Wednesday. It also faces potential meetings with No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven, No. 4 Manasquan, and No. 6 Point Boro.
“Even though we’ve seen these teams and beaten them in the past, we can’t discount them in the future,” Wang said. “But it is a bit of a confidence boost to know we have what it takes to beat some of the top teams in the tournament.”
Freehold faces obstacles in Central Jersey Group IV, including first-seeded West Windsor South, No. 2 East Brunswick, No. 3 Montgomery and seventh-seeded Marlboro. Freehold opens the first round as a No. 4 seed today at home against 13th-seeded Manalapan.
“I think the way we got to this final will help us in the state tournament,” Block said of the Colonials’ victories over Manalapan (4-1), third-seeded Wall (3-2) and No. 2 Manasquan (3-2). “Over the last two weeks we’ve played better competition more frequently, and our girls have improved because of that. Although this is our first loss of the year, I don’t think we’ll have a problem rebounding from it. Our girls have faced some adversity this season and they’ve gotten through it.”