Cape-Atlantic League girls tennis was so dominated by Mainland Regional and Egg Harbor Township this year that the league’s individual championships looked almost like a dual match between the Mustangs and Eagles.
Of the six competitors at the championships, five were from either Mainland or EHT. The only outlier was Vineland superstar junior Tess Fisher, who beat EHT sophomore Emily Manzo in straight sets to win the singles title — her third straight. The doubles matchup featured Mainland’s Jen Margolis and Christine Collings against EHT’s Anne Mkrtchyan and Gabrielle Guimapang.
Margolis and Collings jumped out to an early lead, taking the first set, 6-3. But Mkrtchyan and Guimapang collected themselves, started playing much better around the net, and took the next two sets to win 3-6, 6-0, 6-0. It was the third straight league doubles championship for Mkrtchyan, who had teamed up with Tiffany Trivers the previous two seasons before Trivers moved over to singles this year.
“Mainland’s team is a very good doubles team. They are both very strong at the net and they had beaten Anne and Gabby both times we played them during the regular season. So we were very concerned about this match, but they knew when to turn it on,” EHT coach Alene Hartman said after the championship. “They know (Margolis and Collings) are good players. And Anne and Gabby both knew they had to bring their best game to beat Mainland. I think after the first set they were frustrated, but they decided that if they were going to go down, they were going to go down swinging.”
“This year, I wasn’t so sure how it was going to go because I was with a new partner and they had beaten us before, so I knew we had to come out strong,” Mkrtchyan said. “We’re not the type of team to let go. We’re always going to push, push, push until we get it. I think that was the key. That really helped us get 6-0, 6-0 in the last two sets.”
“We started being more aggressive. I needed to step in (at the net) because I was going back. We just had to go back to the basics,” Guimapang added. “I feel like (in the beginning of the season) we were nervous playing together, but as we got to play more matches we started doing a lot better.”
Hartman said she wasn’t sure how the pairing of Mkrtchyan and Guimapang would go, but they continued to progress through September and began hitting their stride.
“They improved every single match they played this season. I wish I had a video of the first match they played together and the match they played (at CALs), because it looks like an entirely different (doubles) team,” Hartman said. “They got used to each other’s strengths throughout the season and became more comfortable with trusting each other.”
Mkrtchyan said the first-set loss was just a mental hurdle she and her partner had to get over.
“Tennis is more of a mental game. It’s 10 percent physical, and the rest is mental,” she said. “We just had to make sure we were still in it and had the right form. All the little things count.”
Egg Harbor Township had an incredible season this fall. With one match to go heading into November, the Eagles were 17-1 with their only loss coming to Cherry Hill East in the South Jersey Group 4 championship. Sarah Phung had a solid year at second singles and Trivers made the jump from first doubles to third singles and added a lot of depth to the singles lineup. And Manzo had a fantastic sophomore campaign, as evidenced by making it to the league championship.
“Our entire varsity team was (at CALs) to support the girls who were playing, most of the JV team was there, and I think that means a lot and says a lot about how tight this team is and how supportive they are of each other,” Hartman said. “They are just a wonderful group of kids. I had a lot of confidence in them from the beginning of the year. Last year, we only lost one regular-season match and we had a lot of girls returning. I thought we would have a good season, but I didn’t think it would be this good.”
Mainland’s season was just as impressive. The Mustangs lost just twice during the regular season, to EHT, then took down Timber Creek, Ocean City and Hammonton to win their second straight South Jersey Group 3 championship. Their run finally came to an end in the Group 3 semifinals, when the Mustangs lost to Northern Highlands.
Mainland got solid performances from its top two singles players, Meena Mandalapu and Claudia Mairone, and Margolis sometimes bumped up to third singles to add some depth. Christa Carideo teamed up with Collings at first doubles during Mainland’s sectional championship win over Hammonton, and Emily Mack and Justine Gozar added a straight-sets win at second doubles.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays