RANDOLPH _ Morristown's Stef Elling arrived at the Morris County Tennis Tournament with absolutely no expectations.
Elling, a senior, has been a semifinalist all three times she competed in the MCT yet isn't seeking a berth in the first singles final. She is grateful simply to be here and to exhibit her serves, volleys and net game.
After suffering a fracture to her left tibial plateau, most commonly known as a broken knee, in May, Elling didn't anticipate being fully recovered by now and back to swinging a racket. That's why her goal is simply to enjoy her last MCT without pressure.
Despite the carefree approach, Elling prevailed in her first two matches on Saturday, Sept. 24 and gained a berth in the semis opposite second-seeded Britany Lau of Kinnelon.
"I'm just happy to be playing," said Elling after dispatching Katie Kern of Madison 1-0 in the second round. "It felt great. After breaking my knee, I was on crutches for six weeks. I went from playing tennis every day to not doing anything. I had to keep my leg straight. I couldn't bear any weight on it. And, it happened right at prime recruiting time."
Elling, a 10-8 victor over Parsippany Hills' Karoline Xiong in the quarterfinals, had planned on making the most of the summer, competing in USTA events and training. Instead, she said, "I couldn't move and was getting out of shape."
The road back was rough but Elling persisted, became stronger and regained her game. On Aug. 15, Elling was at preseason practices with the Colonials, hoping to retain her spot as the squad's No. 1 player. She gritted it out and held onto the position she earned as a sophomore.
"I gave it all I had at tryouts," she said. "It wasn't pretty but I did it. It was difficult to get the feel of it. I hadn't played in a match since May. My rhythm was off. I believed in myself but didn't know if I would be back."
Each and every practice and match, Elling improved. Her knee is no longer an issue. Elling races around the court without a brace. The only reminders of the injury are soreness after long matches and occasional twinges.
Versus Kern, Elling, who has lost only two regular season matches, proved her serve was still intact, recording six aces. She thrived at the net, just like she did as a freshman when she played first doubles for Mendham.
Lau presents a monumental challenge. Elling is ready for it, having lost to eventual champion Scarlett Blydenburgh of Chatham in the semis in 2015 and Mendham's Lauren Hassell in 2014, also in the semis. All Elling wants at the moment is the opportunity to continue on in college, perhaps at a Division 1 or 3, where she will major in computer science.
Blydenburgh, aiming for her fourth consecutive first singles crown, cruised in matches held at County College of Morris and Brundage Park, triumphing twice by a score of 10-1. She'll face Mendham's Lindsey Hernandez in the semifinals, which are scheduled for CCM.
Top-seeded Seden Agar of Chatham will clash with Mendham's Alexandra Smith in a second singles semifinal. The other semifinal will be between Kinnelon's Agatha Malinowski and Morristown's Meghan Acampora.
At third singles, Chatham's Laurel Hickey will face Montville's Jane-Marie Lai and Mountain Lakes' Allie Gregorek will clash with Morristown's Isabelle Berzins. Unseeded Megan Kerwin of Whippany Park made it all the way to the quarterfinals. She was supposed to meet Villa Walsh's Caitlin O'Reilly in the second round but O'Reilly, seeded sixth, hurt her back and withdrew.
Gregorek, a junior, was at first doubles last season along with Melissa Mao. She is undefeated thus far.
"Allie is very steady and smart," Lakers coach Ginny O'Donnell said. "Her forehand is strong and she moves well. Her doubles experience helps her play at the net."
Chatham, trying to record its fourth title, has 15 points after one day of play. Mendham, Morristown and Montville are tied for second with 14 points apiece.
Latest from Sandy Seegers