RANDOLPH _ Competing in her first Morris County Tennis Tournament, Chatham's Lena Parsch found herself a bit confused.
Parsch, a freshman third singles player, spent the weekend learning a variety of new things on the courts at County College of Morris, including how players obtain balls for the next match.
"If you win, you get new balls from the person you beat," Parsch said.
By early afternoon on Sunday, Sept. 28, Parsch had the routine down. The top-seeded Parsch caught on quickly, gaining a berth in the finals with victories over Hannah Simonson of West Morris in the quarterfinals, 10-0, and Julia Kirschenbaum of Mountain Lakes, 6-1, 6-2, in the semifinals.
"Being in the final is pretty cool," Parsch said. "When I came here, I was confused. I had never done this before so it was a learning experience. It's awesome. I'm happy I made it."
Offering advice to Parsch was Cougars teammate Scarlett Blydenburgh, a freshman last fall when she claimed the first singles crown.
"Scarlett kept reminding me of things because she's been through it before," Parsch said. "She motivated me. She told me not to be nervous. Scarlett told me to just try my best."
Parsch went all out, relying on her serves and accurate forehand to give Chatham a shot at defending its team championship. At the conclusion of play on Sunday, the Cougars and Mendham had 19 points apiece. Action concludes Monday, Sept. 29 at CCM at 1 p.m.
Being the top seed in her bracket didn't bother Parsch, who went up 5-0 in the first set of her match versus Kirschenbaum, at all.
"I think there's less pressure being the top seed," she said. "Opponents look up to you, not down on you. They may have less confidence and I'll have more. All I can do is try my best. If I win, it's great. If I lose, I know what I have to work on."
Parsch will meet second-seeded Lindsey Hernandez of Mendham for bragging rights at third singles. Hernandez moved into the final by dispatching Villa Walsh's Isabella Bezzone, 6-1, 6-0, in the semifinals.
Blydenburgh advanced to the first singles final. Both of Chatham's doubles teams will vie for titles. Mendham is represented in four bracket finals.
An underdog last fall, Blydenburgh has taken her level of play higher in all facets of the game.
"I'm more aggressive," said Blydenburgh, who beat Emily Krupnick of Mountain Lakes, 6-1, 6-3, in the semis. "I have more confidence in my groundstrokes and I move my opponents. I don't have too many long rallies anymore. I'm no longer afraid to finish shots."
Her boldness stems from playing in more tournaments and practicing with the standout boys players at Center Court in Chatham.
"The guys serve and volley," she said. "They finish points earlier."
Blydenburgh cruised for much of her semifinal but hit one bump. Up 5-3 in the second set, she fell behind, 30-0. She buckled down, telling herself "I can't give her the momentum."
Lauren Hassell of Mendham will clash with Blydenburgh at first singles today in a rematch of the 2013 final. Hassell beat Morristown's Steffi Elling, a former teammate, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1.
"I knew what to expect," Hassell said. "I've played with Steffi before. We battled in the first set. Hard shot to hard shot. I had to try to slow the pace down. Steffi was really hyped up."
When the first set went to a tiebreaker, Hassell did not fret. She simply thought of it as practice.
"I work well under pressure," Hassell said. "In practice outside of high school tennis, we play a lot of tiebreakers. In the second set, I kept my energy up. She was breaking down. I ran her around."
Elling paired with Charlie Trinco at first doubles last season and the duo made the final four at the MCT and state tourney. Elling, a sophomore, is in the midst of a fine season for the Colonials and was determined to excel here.
"I was pumped," Elling said. "I had nothing to lose. I played the tiebreaker point by point. The momentum usually shifts with it. I let it all out. I'm happy about that."
Simply being healthy and able to play tennis gets Elling excited. As a 12 year old, she was hampered by several injuries, including a hip flexor and tendinitis in her shoulder, and was forced to take a year off.
She was encouraged by her efforts with Trinco last year and was anxious to see how she'd do at singles, especially in the MCT.
"Tennis matches are about fitness, especially in the heat," Elling said. "I trained hard at Center Court. In the long run, it came down to Lauren's experience in high school tennis. She's played more than me."
Emily Eckert of Mountain Lakes earned the right to defend her second singles title by virtue of a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over Chatham's Bridgette Hickey. Eckert will face Mendham's Lauren Hernandez, a 6-2, 6-4 victor over Meghan Acampora of Morristown.
At first doubles, Emily Sroczynski and Laurel Hickey of Chatham defeated Mountain Lakes' Kim Yi and Allie Gregorek, 6-0, 6-2. Montville's Jillian Garfunkel and Paige Godau triumphed over Trinco and Alexandra Smith of Mendham, 6-0, 6-2.
Last fall, Garfunkel and Joanna Fass claimed the first doubles championship while Godau and Alice Li prevailed at second doubles. The secrets to the duo's success?
"We've known each other our whole lives so we can tell one another what we're doing wrong," Garfunkel said. "We were focused and consistent and worked well together."
"We set each other up and work well together," Godau said. "We're on point. We're aggressive and help each other a lot."
The second doubles final will feature Mendham's Carina Nicolaisen and Ariana Sanjar and Chatham's Chelsea Gilligan and Olivia O'Brien. Nicolaisen and Sanjar had a lengthy match with Karly Strauss and Lauren Aneli of Villa Walsh before winning.
Latest from Sandy Seegers