Columbia HS girls’ tennis team enjoying special year

MAPLEWOOD/SOUTH ORANGE (updated Tuesday Oct. 11, 9:53 a.m. ) – As the head tennis coach at Columbia High School, Bob Lieberman’s most satisfying season came after this past spring when the Cougar boys’ squad went 19-5 and captured a division title.

This fall, Lieberman has also been pleased with the play of the CHS girls’ net squad. Columbia has hovered around the .500 mark, but has played well in big matches, including a clutch first-round triumph in the Essex County Tournament. That was a 3-2 decision over Mount St. Dominic, the No. 8 seed.

“We lost to Millburn, 5-0, in the next round,” said Lieberman, “but heck, they might be the best team in the state. They always have a great program.”

No matter how the 2016 season winds up, the year will always remain special for the CHS girls’ team. This fall, Columbia has played its home matches at the historic Orange Lawn Tennis Club off Ridgewood Road.

“Work was supposed to be done this fall at the courts adjacent to the Baird Community Center,” said Lieberman. “So luckily Orange Lawn told us that we could play at their place on the har-tru courts (not the grass ones). It really has been a great experience for our kids to compete at Orange Lawn. Their club pro, Scott Wlodychak, has particularly been helpful. Hey, he was a superb player at Cedar Grove in the early 1980s.”

Lieberman feels that a 5-0 road victory over Dayton was the team’s top performance in regular-season play. Another top showing was a tough 3-2 loss at Glen Ridge.

Columbia, which has showcased such top girls’ players as Majorie Gantman, has a solid lineup this fall. And off the bench, CHS can also bring in some quality kids.

At the No. 1 singles spot, Columbia has a real good one in sophomore Hannah Gross. The youngster is a very steady performer and is particularly effective from the baseline.

“She did a good job at the second doubles spot in 2015,” said Lieberman. “Hannah just knows how to play the game.”

At the No. 2 singles spot, Columbia goes with junior Sarah Braka. A year ago, she played doubles with Gross.

“Sarah is a real fighter on the court,” said Lieberman. “She’s a very consistent player, and she hangs tough with every point. Like Hannah, Sarah is quite good from the baseline.”

At No. 3 singles, the Cougars have a promising player in sophomore Marky Davis, who was an alternate in doubles last fall. According to her coach, Davis “has nice strokes and really moves the ball around the court.”

At No. 1 doubles, Columbia spotlights senior co-captain Marissa Bowles and junior Lexi Fox. Bowles bothers opponents with a big serve and nice overhead, while Fox can volley well at the net and displays solid groundstrokes.

Columbia is also strong at No. 2 doubles with a pair of sophomores, Becca Brown and Janine-Bacchus-Joseph.

“Becca is very consistent on the court,” said the coach, “while Janine creates problems because she can hit the ball so hard.”

Senior co-captain Ella Thibodeau, junior Katherine D’Andrea and sophomores Lily Wilson and Katya Silverman-Stoloff have also helped the Cougars this fall.

Columbia, which began the season with a 4-1 victory over Golda Och at Orange Lawn, has shown great intelligence on the courts. All of the players on the varsity roster know what it takes to win.

“The only fault I have with the girls,” commented Lieberman, “is that they seem to have problems slicing the ball. But that will come as they gain more and more experience.

“Almost all our kids will return in 2017, and that certainly bodes well for the future.”

Columbia, seeded seventh, defeated No. 10 seed Piscataway, 4-1, Oct. 6, in the first round at home before losing to second-seeded J.P. Stevens 5-0, in the quarterfinals on Oct. 10 in Edison in the state North Jersey Section 2, Group 4 tournament.
CHS will play Oct. 13 at Millburn, Oct. 17 at Governor Livingston and Oct. 18 at Scotch Plains.

TENNIS TIDBITS – In the early 1980s, the top boys’ players in Essex County were Wlodychak, Mark DeMattheis of Verona and Dan Nahirny of Columbia… In the spring, the CHS boys’ squad might play its home matches at the West Orange Tennis Club… Gantman starred in the early 199os.