Mustangs rule N.J. tennis with victory in 2021 Tournament of Champions

The Marlboro High School girls tennis team defeated Pingry 3-2 in the Tournament of Champions final on Oct. 21 in Edison.

David Kretzmer has been at the helm of the Marlboro High School girls tennis program for 22 years. He has coached several outstanding teams during those two decades, but there was always a team “a little better” than the Mustangs when tournaments were contested.

That changed in 2021 and this time it was the Mustangs who were better than any team they faced this season.

On Oct. 21 at the Garden State Tennis Center in Edison, Marlboro won its third New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Tournament of Champions title by defeating the the tournament’s No. 1 seed, the Pingry School of Basking Ridge, 3-2.

The Mustangs were the No. 2 seed in the Tournament of Champions.

“It was a nice blessing,” Kretzmer said. “We were able to break through this year and make the most of it. The girls worked hard all off-season and during the season to get better.”

The Mustangs have reached the Tournament of Champions five times and won in 1990 and 1991, before waiting 30 years for their third title. The team’s other appearances in the final match were in 1987 and 1992.

The final against Pingry consisted of matches at first singles, second singles, third singles, first doubles and second doubles. The final came down to the third singles match between Marlboro’s Olivia Zuba and Pingry’s Sarah Kloss.

Marlboro earned two team points with victories by Diana Zuba, who defeated Anika Paul, 6-3, 6-4, at first singles, and by Klarissa Salfarlie and Kayla Salfarlie, who defeated Isabelle Chen and Leila Souayah, 6-4, 7-5, at first doubles.

In the competition, if a match was tied 1-1 after two sets, the players competed in a tiebreaker in which the first player to win 10 points (needing to win by two points) would win the match.

Pingry earned two team points with victories by Sydney Langer, who defeated Laila Fishman, 7-6, 2-6 and 10-4 in the tiebreaker, at second singles, and by Olivia Gallucci and Sabrina Schneider, who defeated Sarah Feldman and Pramya Surapaneni, 6-0, 6-1, at second doubles.

In the third singles match, Olivia Zuba lost the first set, 4-6, to Kloss and needed to win the second set to keep the Mustangs’ hopes of winning the title alive.

The sophomore bounced back from her loss in the first set to win the second set, 6-4, and in the tiebreaker Zuba defeated Kloss, 13-11, to give Marlboro the deciding team point for a 3-2 win and the Tournament of Champions crown.

“The credit goes to all the girls,” Kretzmer said. “They were a great team to be a part of.”

En route to winning the Tournament of Champions title, Marlboro defeated East Brunswick, 3-2, in the Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament final on Oct. 12.

“That was a big match for us,” Kretzmer said. “We have lost to (East Brunswick) in previous years. For us to perform well and beat them was a big confidence boost for us going forward.”

By winning the state sectional title, the Mustangs advanced to the state Group IV tournament. In the Group IV semifinals, Marlboro defeated Ridgewood, 4.5-0.5 (second doubles only played one set).

On Oct. 14, the Mustangs cruised to a 5-0 victory over Westfield in the Group IV state final to win their seventh state group championship and their first such crown since 1993.

The win over Westfield put Marlboro into the six-team Tournament of Champions. The Mustangs received a bye to the semifinals and defeated Demarest, 4-1, to advance to the championship match against Pingry.

Marlboro also won the 2021 Shore Conference Tournament and its second straight Monmouth County Tournament.

“We were just unbeatable this year,” Kretzmer said. “To win all those tournaments is an impressive feat. The wins came from all different spots in our lineup.”

Marlboro finished its season with a 5-0 victory over Manalapan on Oct. 22 to end the campaign with a 22-0 record.

Kretzmer said it marked the first time in program history the team has gone undefeated in match play.

With an historic season in the books, the coach watched his players savor the moment after defeating Manalapan.

It was bittersweet because the players did not want to see the season end, but Kretzmer could tell how happy they were about what they were able to achieve and the memories they made during the journey.

“It was nice to see them rest and soak in what we just did. All the credit goes to them. They showed what they can do so well,” the coach said.