By Jimmy Allinder
The John P. Stevens High School girls’ tennis team has been a power in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) for years, but head coach Ellen Pisano was “very, very surprised” her team captured the conference tournament championship Sept. 28.
“Honestly, the goal I set was for us was to finish in the top three,” said Pisano, who is in her 21st season. “But we managed to get everybody to the semifinals, and we continued to play well.”
In fact, all three singles players and both doubles teams made it through to the finals, which assured the Hawks a lot of points and ultimately led to the team title. Freshman Elizabeth Yu (14-1) suffered just her first loss when she lost in straight sets, 6-2, 6-0, to sensational Metuchen High School freshman Erika Rems.
Rems, who is ranked on the junior circuit, had little trouble making it through the bracket and demonstrated why she is not only the best player in the conference, but also a serious challenger for the state singles title.
In second singles, J.P. Stevens’ senior captain Deepti Talesra (11-4) earned her third GMC singles title when she won by default over South Brunswick High School’s Rashmi Venkatarmara. The Viking was injured and couldn’t continue with the match tied 5-5 in the first set.
Sophomore Srinkithi Kannan (14-1) showed grit and determination by defeating top-seed Gabriella Iordache of South Brunswick, 6-4, 6-1, to win at third singles. The victory avenged an earlier regular-season loss to Iordache.
In the first doubles final, juniors Ishani Kulkarni and Divya Talesra (13-2) won the tournament title, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, over South Brunswick’s Anisha Malhotra and Swathi Chandrika, which qualified them for the state doubles tournament. In the second doubles final, seniors Christina Xue (captain) and Naina Asthana (8-3) lost to South Brunswick’s Anisha Javvaji and Ashima Agarwal, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Seniors Esha Khandelwal and Gail Tynkov have also rotated into doubles for J.P. Stevens during regular-season matches.
With the GMCs over, Pisano said the Hawks are focused on clinching the Red Division, where they are undefeated and have a victory over South Brunswick in their first match. A second win when the teams meet Oct. 21 would seal the deal.
“We defeated Morristown [High School] and Ridgewood [High School] in the Livingston Tournament Sept. 17, and those are good teams,” Pisano said. “That gave us confidence we could compete in the GMCs. Ridge [High School] is the only team to beat us in the regular season (10-1), and somehow we need to turn around that loss (4-1) because [the Red Devils] will be our main competitor in the state [sectionals].”
A tie in high school football is a rarity these days, but that’s exactly what happened when Edison High School met Old Bridge High School (2-1-1) Sept. 30.
The teams were knotted, 35-35, after regulation, and each posted a touchdown in the first overtime but couldn’t break the stalemate in the second and third extra stanzas.
According to state high school rules, if no team goes ahead after three overtime periods, the contest is declared a tie. That’s little consolation for the Eagles, who had an opportunity to score from the 1-yard line in the last overtime but turned over the ball. It was the second straight game in which Edison appeared to be on its way to a win but couldn’t convert the clinching points.
Two weeks earlier, the Edison was on the brink of defeating Sayreville War Memorial High School when Nick Yanik hauled in a pass and sprinted to the end zone for what would have given the Eagles a 20-12 lead in the third quarter. However, the ball was punched out of Yanik’s arms and the Bombers recovered the loose ball and immediately struck with an 80-yard touchdown to take an 18-13 lead, which was the game’s final score.
Oddly enough, Edison’s record is 1-1-1 and despite the misfortune, head coach Matt Fulham said the team’s goals will be to continue competing every week in the Red Division, which he acknowledged is a difficult task because it possesses such quality and balance.
“Our team is hungry and we have talent, but so is every team we play this year,” he said.
Fulham said the Eagles have performed well because of the senior leadership. Quarterback Justin Turner, running backs James Stewart and Sincere Williams, wide receiver Keanu Reed and offensive linemen Jason Kelly and Jason McGrady have played especially well. On defense, ends Lance Rice and Victor Lamin; tackles Jack Karvaski and Josh Soler; linebackers Reilly Gonzalez, Yanik, and Steven Roe; and defensive backs Austin Rivera, Dom Kurtyan and Ronnie Spears have been important contributors.
“We also have other seniors who don’t start but contribute on special teams, scout teams and bring a positive attitude and strong work ethic every day,” Fulham said. “We also have three sophomores — center Anthony Burke, right tackle and defensive tackle Xavier Long and defensive back and wide receiver Noah Stansbury — who have played quality minutes.”
Edison is on the road for the next two GMC games, beginning Oct. 7 at South Brunswick and Oct. 14 at New Brunswick High School. It returns home Oct. 21 to host East Brunswick High School.