CHATHAM, NJ - Since he took over as the head coach of the girls tennis program at Chatham five years ago, James Cai's teams have won four straight Morris County Tournament team championships. There will be one difference this year if the Lady Cougars win a fifth straight MCT - they'll be doing it without the help of Scarlett Blydenburgh.
Blydenburgh played first singles for Chatham for four years, winning four MCT team titles and three first-singles individual county championships.
Despite the loss of Blydenburgh, Chatham comes into 2017 with the talent to make it five straight MCT titles. The team is ranked No. 4 in the state by NJ.com and last fall junior Seden Agar was selected first team All-State at second singles by NJ.com. She comes into the season battling senior Lena Parsch for the No. 1 singles position for the Lady Cougars.
"We feel a little pressure (to win the county), but It's best to stay calm and confident," Agar said. "I did go overseas to Australia and Europe to play tennis and visit family. I trained hard."
Agar's confident demeanor brings a certain calmness to the Chatham team. She's also honed her game with a stint at a Turkish tennis academy while overseas this summer.
"I think she's in better shape physically than last year," Cai said. "Seden is so casual on the court. She's always relaxed. She has her game and once she gets into her groove, she hits winners left and right."
Parsch definitely softens the loss of Blydenburgh. After playing for Chatham's MCT championship team as a freshman, Parsch has returned from a two-year absence from high school tennis. Cai describes Parsch as a "heavy hitter."
"I missed being on the team," Parsch said. "I kept in touch with Scarlett (Blydenburgh) and Julia (Gallop) while I was playing at Centercourt. I think I'm coming back as a more consistent player with a variety of shots. I have better strategies for playing a match. My goal is to pay college tennis."
Junior Lana DePasquale moves over to third singles for Chatham from first doubles.
Senior Julia Gallop and freshman left-hander Libby White form the first-doubles team for Chatham, while Elana Tognola and Catherine Healy team up at second doubles.
Chatham opens Wednesday, Sept. 6 at Morristown.