MOUNTAIN LAKES _ Ginny O'Donnell has immense faith in and respect for the Mountain Lakes girls tennis team.
No way, though, did O'Donnell think the Lakers, younger than they've been in awhile, would be vying for a sectional title.
Yet, on Tuesday, Oct. 13, the Mountain Lakes players were trading groundstrokes with Leonia in the North Jersey Section 1, Group I final on their home courts.
The top-seeded Lakers suffered a 4-1 setback to third-seeded Leonia but O'Donnell and the Lakers were far from sad.
"I never thought this would happen," O'Donnell said. "Everyone is so brand new. It's been a terrific journey. The girls are so close. They care so much about one another. They fight for everything. They never give up. It's a joy to coach them every day."
Senior Emily Krupnick, who has held down the first singles spot for three seasons, fittingly, was the last Mountain Lakes player to leave the court. She engaged in a 90-minute battle with Kate Lieber. Krupnick took the first set, 6-1, but lost the second, 3-6. That led to a super tiebreaker. Lieber prevailed, 10-6.
Krupnick, a standout lacrosse goalie, took the first set by serving well and keeping the ball deep. Lieber, whose forehands sizzled, evened it by taking advantage when Krupnick hit short. Krupnick fell behind early in the tiebreaker then rallied before falling short.
"I lost points I shouldn't have in the tiebreaker," said Krupnick, a member of the Lakers sectional title squad in 2013. "I pulled it together. I just wish I played better at the beginning of the match."
The second doubles pairing of sophomore Ana Zorlas and junior Grace Chuan got Mountain Lakes its only point, dispatching Ninna Suh and Joann Na, 6-1, 6-4.
Communication is key for Zorlas and Chuan, who played first doubles for the junior varsity last fall.
"We're good friends," Zorlas said. "We talk a lot. We work well together."
"I'll say 'I'll get the ball,'" Chuan said. "Sometimes, I tell Ana to get it or she tells me to. We're just having fun and doing our best for the rest of the team."
O'Donnell indicated that Zorlas and Chuan "are good athletes and complement one another."
"Ana hits the ball hard and Grace moves well," O'Donnell said. "What's also important is that they believe in each other."
Lakers senior Kim Yi, moved from first doubles to second singles, was defeated by Liya Davidov, 1-6, 1-6. Sanjana Ratakonda, a sophomore, had a solid second set but was beaten, 1-6, 5-7, at third singles by Bianca Lieber. Ratakonda previously held down one of the second doubles positions.
Leonia's Jessica Reich and Elise Kim prevailed over a pair of underclassmen, Melissa Mao, a freshman, and Allie Gregorek, a sophomore, 6-4, 6-1.
"A lot of these kids made big jumps, hard jumps," O'Donnell said. "It's difficult."
Krupnick, headed to Haverford, where she will play lacrosse, expected that Mountain Lakes would be rebuilding. She has savored this season and the camaraderie she shares with her teammates.
"Everyone has stepped up," Krupnick said. "We're all such good friends. That makes us more relaxed and we play well."
O'Donnell, who stepped down after the 2012 season with the intention of retiring to South Carolina, returned to coach, replacing Rob Elia. O'Donnell previously headed the girls program for 16 years.
"This season has been so amazing," O'Donnell said. "It's really special."
Latest from Sandy Seegers