CHATHAM, NJ - James Cai set the bar high in his first year as the Chatham girls tennis coach in 2013, guiding the team to the state sectional crown, the Morris County Tournament championship and the conference title. This year, the Lady Cougars won't be able to sneak up on anybody.
"Last year, we were the underdog," Cai said. "Now everybody knows that Chatham is good. They know these players, so there is no surprise from us. Everyone out there is working hard to beat us, especially Mendham, our old rival."
What surprised Mendham and the other teams in Morris County were the arrival of newcomers Scarlett Blydenburgh, Sophia Fredriksson and Bridgette Hickey. Blydenburgh and Fredriksson were freshmen, taking over the No. 1 and 2 singles spots, respectively. Hickey, who moved here from North Carolina, took over at third singles. Those three helped Chatham reach the Group 3 state semifinals, where it lost to Princeton, 4-1.
Blydenburgh is back at No. 1 singles and Hickey, a senior, moves up to No 2. Fredriksson has returned to Sweden. Her spot is likely to be filled by incoming freshman Lena Parsch. Senior Emily Sroczynski and sophomore Laurel Hickey will partner at first doubles.
"I'm ready for the competition that's coming for us," Cai said. "Just because we won last year, doesn't mean we will win this year. It's harder to go further. It's what the girls want, not what I want. They wanted to win the state group so badly, but it was a different story when they traveled to play in the state tournament. Everything was different than when we play at home. The girls were not used to the different surroundings."
The squad is buoyed by seniors Megan Buckley, Brigette Palombo, Jacquelyn Kaiser, Charlotte Tully, Kate Beebe and Chelsea Gilligan. Olivia O'Brien has made the varsity roster as a sophomore.
Blydenburgh, the reigning Morris County singles champion, has been busy competing in USTA tournaments over the summer. She returns as Chatham's most accomplished player.
"Scarlett is better in terms of ground strokes and volley," Cai said. "She's been playing a lot of USTA tournaments.
"This year my focus is going to be on the second doubles and third singles. If you secure these two spots and you have Scarlett (Blydenburgh) then you have three points. We have to work more on doubles strategy."
Singles player Bridgette Hickey talks about the goals for the season in video below
Senior captain Chelsea Gilligan in video below