By Matthew Rocco
The Holmdel High School girls’ tennis team hasn’t missed a beat. The Hornets, coming off another championship season, already have five shutouts to their credit as they begin the Shore Conference Tournament (SCT).
Holmdel, a perennial powerhouse in the Shore Conference and a top-ranked team in New Jersey this season, has taken the last four Shore Conference Tournaments (SCT). The Hornets also have won two straight NJSIAA Group II titles, and they advanced as far as the Tournament of Champions finals both times.
It’s safe to say that Holmdel is squarely in the mix to grab more postseason hardware in 2016.
The early proof is in Holmdel’s 5-0 start to the new campaign. The team has defeated Raritan High School, St. John Vianney High School, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, Marlboro High School and Matawan Regional High School without dropping a single match.
With an unblemished record, the Hornets were riding high heading into their first day of SCT action Sept. 20 in the second round. Holmdel had a first-round bye.
“Usually I downplay it, but obviously we hope to get back to where we were last year, and I think we have a good chance to win the state championship,” head coach Chuck Chelednik said. “We have the same seven [starters] back, and we have even more depth than last year.”
Those seven returning starters include senior Brianna Gibbs, who continues to lead the team at first singles. Junior Ola Wojciak is competing at second singles, and third singles belongs to junior Rita Vought.
Holmdel’s doubles teams are sophomore Vicky Vought and senior Emily Kong at first doubles and sophomore Natalie Cipriano and senior Jaimee Ratkoski at second doubles.
The Hornets are keeping their focus on the competitive matches to come, in the regular season and in tournament play. The team knows what awaits it in potential postseason matches, and Chelednik wants his Hornets to be ready. Each of the last two years, the Hornets have lost to a rival state powerhouse, Millburn High School, in the Tournament of Champions finals. Like Holmdel, Millburn is once again considered a top team in the state this year.
“They’ve all worked hard and gotten better,” Chelednik said when asked about the first five matchups of the season. “We’ve created this culture where you have to keep working to keep your spot. We want to keep working toward the ultimate goal.”
After starting the SCT, Holmdel was slated to face Red Bank Regional High School in a home match Sept. 21. The Hornets will hit the road to play Shore Regional High School Sept. 23. They have another home match scheduled for Sept. 26 against Raritan.