Prior to the start of the fall season, West Deptford High School girls’ tennis coach Kelly Hernandez made it clear that the Eagles had the pieces in place to have a special season. Coming off of a seven-win season that she said “put a bad taste in my mouth,” Hernandez challenged the team for the better—much better.
“I want them to be the team I know they should be,” Hernandez said in early September.
No. 1 singles Marthalyn Johnson won a second-set tiebreaker to clinch the third point in No. 6 West Deptford’s 4-1 win over No. 11 Willingboro in the opening round of the NJSIAA Group 2 South Jersey playoffs.
The Eagles will travel to face No. 3 Cedar Creek in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
“I think we are more of a family this year,” Johnson said. “We all cheer each other on more. It’s a mostly senior team so we all just want to make our last year memorable.”
Johnson had several teammates cheering her own as she closed out her victory. She had just seen a 4-1, second-set lead turn into a 6-6 tie, forcing a tie-breaking scenario. Rather than get frustrated by the situation,
Johnson raised her game back up, winning the first five points of an eventual 7-4 win.
“It was really hard because I started to get lazy and the heat started getting to me,” said Johnson of the second set. “I just stayed positive and did it for the team.”
The Eagles’ first point of the match was delivered by Michelle Bower, who won 6-4, 6-1 at No. 2 singles. Bower, who missed a significant chunk of last season due to a concussion, has been a big part of West Deptford’s turnaround.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Bower said. “I’ve been trying to make sure I don’t get injured again so I don’t miss it.”
Bower said the team’s success can be traced back to the offseason, when as a group the Eagles decided it was time to elevate their play.
“I just think we were a lot more dedicated,” Bower said. “Summer practices were a lot harder and we were there working to get better. We all knew that we could win and with us pretty much all being seniors, we knew it was our last chance to really do something.”
The West Deptford doubles teams of Mia Forbes/Kerrian Pfleger and Danielle Melvin/Lauren Szbiak also won, while No. 3 singles Katie Schober lost in three sets.
The Eagles (9-5) entered the playoffs on a bit of a downswing, losing three of its last four matches. However, the players didn’t let the minor swoon keep affect their mindset heading into Thursday’s playoff match.
“I think we all felt like we could do it no matter what,” Johnson said. “We do have our ups and downs, but we always know how to pull through.”
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