Montclair Kimberley girls tennis gets a second helping of an ECT championship
The Montclair Kimberley girls tennis team fulfilled one of its goals Saturday, winning the Essex County Tournament championship — for the second year in a row.
But it was a little harder this season, as the Cougars turned back Newark Academy 3-2 at the Althea Gibson Courts in Newark. Before the ECT final, MKA had only given up one point, to West Essex, 4-1, on Sept. 14. The Cougars raised their match record to 12-0.
Last season Montclair Kimberley defeated Millburn, 4-1, for the ECT title.
Before the county tournament, Montclair Kimberley head coach Bill Wing was expecting his squad to have a hot start, after going 17-1 in 2021.
"We had an excellent season last year, and I know our kids were committed to getting better and that they would work hard in the off-season," Wing said. "Combine that with adding one of the best freshmen (Aria Nina Abalos) in the state, and we knew we had a chance to be good."
Coming into this year’s finals against Newark Academy, the Cougars went 5-0 against Irvington, Verona and Livingston in each matchup from the first round to the semifinals.
"I did feel more pressure this year because we won it last year," said junior co-captain Hannah Lewis, who teamed with junior Katie Chung on first doubles. The Lewis-Chung team lost a 10-5 tiebreaker to Newark Academy's Hilary Adelman-Molly Egan team.
Another junior who was on the 2021 team, Milagros Carbajal Diaz, defeated Newark Academy's Joanna Yu, 6-1, 6-2, this season in the final.
"I felt a little nervous this year," Diaz said about facing a tough opponent like Yu and trying to repeat the 2021 success.
Along with Diaz, the two other singles matches went to MKA, with two-set victories from Abalos and junior Amara Bhatia in first and third singles respectively.
In last season's ECT title match, both Diaz at second singles and Lewis at second doubles defeated their Millburn opponents.
Diaz and Lewis have been very confident about the success of the team and also about the upcoming playoffs. The Cougars lost to Kent Place in the Non Public A North semifinals in 2021. It was their lone defeat last season.
For both, a big reason for the confidence is the emergence of Abalos. "She's amazing and puts less pressure on us," Lewis said.
Abalos has made a big splash this season, and Wing said that she is one of the top freshmen in New Jersey.
"Nina is such an impressive player," the coach said. "Her match play maturity is well beyond her age. She plays aggressive tennis from all areas of the court, and her speed and agility allow her to play great defense as well. Best of all, she is totally committed to her teammates and our team concept."
Diaz was 20-3 last season, and Wing likes her competitive level.
"Milagros is a treat to watch at second singles," he said. "This is her third year in that position, and her compete level and tenacity is what makes her successful. She works every point in practice and in matches, and it shows in all situations."
For this season Lewis has moved up to first doubles with Chung.
"Katie and Hannah have really come together at first doubles and play a really smart game," the coach said. "They both hit big ground strokes, and they can win points at the net with a nice combination of power or finesse depending on the situation. Both of them had successful doubles seasons last year with other partners, and they have really had great chemistry."
In the third singles, Bhatia swept Newark Academy's Maddy Kayyali, 6-1, 6-0. Wing said that Bhatia works the entire court.
"Amara at third singles is fun to watch," he said. "She plays an aggressive all-court game and can win points with power or finesse."
Against Newark Academy the MKA second doubles team of freshman Lauren Chung and junior Ellie Lopiccolo lost 6-4, 6-4 to Siyona Bordia and Sarah Wang, but the Cougars second doubles team has been solid so far in 2022.
"Lauren and Ellie have come together nicely to give us a strong second doubles team," Wing said. "They both serve well and have great communication. Lauren has very strong ground strokes, and Ellie has become a very aggressive and consistent net player. Together they make an excellent doubles pairing."
Montclair Kimberley Girls Tennis Schedule
(Dates and times subject to change, 4 p.m. start except where noted)
Sept. 29 West Orange
Sept. 30 Millburn
Oct. 3 at Caldwell
Oct. 6 Non Public North state playoffs first round, TBD
Oct. 11 Non Public North state playoffs second round, TBD
Oct. 13 Non Public North state playoffs third round, TBD
Oct. 16 Prep B Tournament, TBD
Oct. 18 Prep B Championship, TBD