MONTVILLE _ Seden Agar, Chatham's second singles player, did her very best to ignore her pulled left hamstring.
Agar, a freshman, didn't want anyone to know about her injury when she was trading shots with Montville senior Erin Sanzone. All she wanted to do was survive one of the toughest matches of her young career and grind out a victory.
A very relieved - and exhausted - Agar rallied and prevailed, 3-6, 7-5 then 10-5 in a tiebreaker in a second singles match that lasted two hours and 10 minutes on Friday, Sept. 18, helping the Cougars to a 4-1 win over the Mustangs.
"I was physically drained but I pulled through," Agar said. "I tried not to show that I was hurt. I didn't want to let the team down. They need me."
When the match ended, Agar's teammates met her at the gate and picked her up, carrying her several feet before putting her down, a gesture that touched the rookie athlete.
Chatham coach James Cai had praise for Agar, a strong contender in her flight at the Morris County Girls Tennis Championships. So did Montville coach Ken Sachs.
"Seden is very consistent," Cai said. "Montville's player was a heavy hitter. Sanzone is a brick wall. She gets everthing back. Long points are not Erin's style. She likes to put the ball away early."
"(Agar) deserves all of the credit," said Sachs after the victory over Sanzone, a four-year letterwinner and captain. "She gives 120 percent. She's a freshman but plays like a senior."
Agar's strategy was simple.
"I had to play smarter," Agar said. "I had to move her side to side. She got to everything."
After dropping the first set, Agar stepped it up, turning in a gutsy effort despite her hamstring. Agar placed her ground shots well and stayed mentally strong. Instead of a third set, there was a 10-point tiebreaker. That, too, did not faze the right-handed ninth grader as she kept battling.
"I tried to be consistent," Agar said. "She was like a brick wall."
Cai is hoping that Agar as well as the rest of his players will be on top of their games on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 26 and 27 when the Cougars try to win a third straight team title.
"There'll be a lot more competition this year," Cai said. "Kinnelon has a really good freshman and Mendham is a top team. There are many underdogs but we are ready to defend the championship."
Scarlett Blydenburgh, a junior, is the top seed at first singles and is seeking a third consecutive title. Although it is hard to believe, Blydenburgh has elevated her already high-level game and become more aggressive.
"I'm looking for opportunities to come to the net and finish points rather than be on the baseline and make an unforced error," Blydenburgh explained. "I'm going to take the initiative and move in."
Blydenburgh has invested time in her footwork and has made it a goal to attack opponents' second serves.
"I've always had it in me," she said of her current strategies. "I've been able to hit down-the-line shots and move other players. I was a little nervous when I was younger. I didn't think I could be aggressive. Now I'm older and more educated."
The Cougars appear to have the personnel necessary for a threepeat. Senior Laurel Hickey, half of the first doubles squad that prevailed in the Morris Championships last fall, has been playing third singles.
Freshman Lana DePasquale and Julia Gallop, a sophomore, comprise the first doubles unit. Junior Abby Morgan and senior Jen McCann play second doubles.
"Everyone's been playing well," Blydenburgh said. "We'll gain experience and get stronger. We've looked forward to this tournament since the beginning of the season. We'll take it one match at a time and play our best."
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