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Chatham takes MCT championship

Featured Jill Garfunkel and Joanna Fass of Montville celebrate their first doubles title. Photos by Maryann Harlow Jill Garfunkel and Joanna Fass of Montville celebrate their first doubles title.
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RANDOLPH _ Tatyana Blydenburgh put much thought and consideration into the naming of her daughter Scarlett.

Blydenburgh chose the name for several reasons: In tribute to the heroine of "Gone With The Wind," one of her favorite movies, to honor the red of her native country, the Soviet Union, and because Scarlett was born in 1999.

"Scarlett was born during a revolutionary time in Russia," the elder Blydenburgh said.

On Sunday, Sept. 29, Scarlett Blydenburgh, three days shy of her 14th birthday, lived up to the traits her mother admired in Scarlett O'Hara, winning at first singles to lead Chatham to its first Morris County Girls Tennis Tournament title since 2000.

"My mom always has been fascinated with Scarlett O'Hara," said Scarlett Blydenburgh, who defeated top-seeded Lauren Hassell of Mendham, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, in the finals held at County College of Morris. "She likes her because she's brilliant, brave and cunning."

The second-seeded freshman exhibited all of those attributes and more on the second day of the two-day tournament. Blydenburgh played two lengthy matches, including the final which lasted two hours, 45 minutes. In each match, she lost the first set and had to battle back.

In the morning, Blydenburgh, who stands 5-feet tall and weighs 95 pounds, defeated Montville's Kirstin Godau, 6-7 (3-6), 6-3, 6-3. Hassell, a sophomore, was another formidable opponent. She fell to her 7-6, 1-6, 10-8 six days earlier when the Cougars and Minutemen clashed in league play.

"I didn't want to lose to her again," Blydenburgh said. "I had to fight through being tired and exhausted and grind it out. After I lost the first set, I was feeling kind of depressed. I knew being in the final was a big deal. I thought it'd be great to win as a freshman."

So, after a talk with Chatham coach James Cai, Blydenburgh changed her mindset and took his advice.

"I asked Scarlett 'Do you still want to win this?' after she lost the first set," Cai said. "I told her she had to go to the net and go for it. Her body language was different in the second and third sets. She was more positive, more consistent. Scarlett's a fighter. She doesn't quit. I am so proud of her."

Blydenburgh contended with Hassell's penchant for lobs by being more aggressive. She went up 4-1 in the second set and closed it out by breaking Hassell. In the third set, Blydenburgh seemed even more motivated. She hit an overhead for the next-to-last point. Hassell slugged a backhand shot wide to end the match.

Believe it or not, Blydenburgh, involved in karate, gymnastics, swimming and dance before settling on tennis, was nervous going into the MCT.

"When I first stepped on the court, I realized I was here for the first time," she said. "A lot of people were around and I was a little freaked out. I heard people cheer for me. There were cheers for my opponents. There was pressure."

Mountain Lakes junior Emily Eckert, nagged by a minor tear of her rotator cuff, prevailed at second singles, beating Chatham freshman Sophia Fredriksson, 6-3, 6-2, to nab her first title.

Eckert, the fifth seed, ousted the No. 1 seed, Kaitlin Sanzone, 7-5, 6-2, in the semifinals before taking on Fredriksson, seeded second.

Mendham's Katie Gutknecht repeated as third singles champion by virtue of a 6-2, 6-2 win over Chatham's Bridgette Hickey.

"I'm very proud," Gutknecht said. "I feel so accomplished. I'm a senior and I got done what needed to be done. It's an interesting feeling."

Gutknecht, whose objectives were to utilize her backhand slice and keep errors to a minimum, never trailed. She exuded confidence from start to finish versus Hickey, a transfer from Charlotte, N.C. Earlier in the week, the Minutemen and Cougars met in a conference match. Gutknecht came away with a 6-3, 3-6, 10-6 win.

"I tried to keep it together," Gutknecht said. "I had no expectations. I had to go in and see what would happen. I was pleased to play Bridgette. She's a sweet girl."

Repeating is extra special because Gutknecht does not plan to play tennis in college. She might compete in intramurals or with a club squad. Her dream college is Penn State, where she intends to study animal or veterinary science.

Montville took both doubles crowns. At first doubles, Joanna Fass and Jill Garfunkel topped the No. 1-seeded duo from Mendham, Emily Sroczynski and Alison Ramsland, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. The Mustangs' second doubles team comprised of sophomore Paige Godau and freshman Alice Li dispatched Chatham's Katie Howard-Johnson and Laurel Hickey, 6-0, 6-4.

Fass, a senior, and Garfunkel, a junior, were most elated about winning. The girls, friends since they were toddlers, yelled out 'Finally!' when the match was over. They were thrilled because they were runners-up in 2012 and semifinalists in 2011.

"It's amazing," Fass said. "I am so happy. To be a senior and win the counties. ..." 

"It's kind of revenge after what happened over the last two seasons," Garfunkel said. "It's all just breathtaking."

Dropping the second set was upsetting but Fass and Garfunkel quickly righted themselves.

"We stayed calm and let the points we lost go," Garfunkel said. "We knew what was at stake and wanted to play our best."

Godau and Li teamed up after Godau's former partner, Liz Kogan, moved. The pairing works well because Godau excels at backhands and Li has a strong forehand.

The first set in the final was a breeze as Godau and Li didn't drop a game.

"We played well in the first set," Godau said. "We went crosscourt and kept away from volleying."

Li enjoyed playing in the MCT and considered it "a good experience for a freshman and a sophomore."

"It was a little nerve-wracking in the beginning then it became more fun," Li said.

Chatham halted Mendham's three-year reign as MCT champion. Montville and Mendham were second and third, respectively. Mountain Lakes secured fourth place.

Cai, a first-year coach, was understandably moved by his players' efforts. He pulled down his sunglasses to show that he was "just a little teary-eyed."

"This is my first year coaching the girls," Cai said. "I've coached boys before. This is a different experience for me. I'm very happy." 

Last modified onSunday, 28 September 2014 22:46
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