NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ -- In the New Providence girls tennis team's recent drive to a sectional final, Sonia Kulkarni has emerged as a steady force.

The junior plays third singles for the Pioneers, who have overcome their early season struggles as a team to reach the Central Jersey, Group 1 sectional finals with a five-game winning streak.

Kulkarni has been integral to the team's turnaround with four consecutive victories herself.

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"As the season has progressed, Sonia has come into her own," said New Providence girls tennis coach Marc Willemsen. "She has won her last four matches, including Union Catholic, A.L. Johnson, Metuchen and Shore Regional.  Opposing coaches have complimented her intelligent style of tennis."

Kulkarni defeated her opponent from Shore Regional, 6-2, 6-0, in the sectional semifinal last Friday, a match New Providence won, 4-1.

"Sonia takes full advantage of the mental side of tennis," Willemsen said. "She is quick and has solid ground strokes, but her greatest strength, in my opinion, is her burgeoning confidence and quick-acting mind. "

The Joe Eberle Weichert Realtors Pioneer Athlete of the Week, Kulkarni took a few moments to answer some questions.

Q: Have you seen your game change since your last year?
A: Yes, I believe that I've become a smarter player. I try different strategies and techniques that I learned from my coaches. During my matches I modify my game plan based on the opponent's style.

Q: What has been the best advice you have received from a coach?
A: My coach told me to believe in myself and to go on the court confident in my game. This has definitely helped me play better.

Q: What has been your most memorable match to date?
A: At the (Union) County Tournament this year, in one match, my opponent had a 3-0 lead. During the changeover, my coaches told me to stay calm and confident and to play my best game. Their encouragement and advice helped me win the match 6-3, 6-0.

Q: Are you aspiring to play tennis in college?
A: I enjoy playing tennis and I see myself improving every year, so I do hope to keep playing tennis in college.

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The Joe Eberle Weichert Realtors Pioneer Athlete of the Week is sponsored by Joe Eberle Weichert Realtors located at 64 Main Street in Chatham.  Joe is a 25 year New Providence resident who is an active member of the New Providence community. Contact Joe anytime, whether it's to get started on helping you realize your real estate goals and dreams, or just to ask a question about the local market.  Joe can be reached at jeberle@weichert.com or call 908-868-4800