2009-11-11 / Sports

Dassa retains county tennis championship

Marlboro H.S. junior wins second straight first singles crown
BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Michelle Dassa was quite miffed when the seedings for the Monmouth County tennis tournament were announced. The defending champion from Marlboro High School found herself inexplicably unseeded.

"Just like last year," she said. "It made me more determined. I was a little shocked" at being unseeded.

And, just like last year, Dassa made the tournament's seeding committee look out of touch. Despite having to negotiate her way through the No. 4, 2 and 1 seeds, Dassa won the tournament's first singles title and helped Marlboro finish third overall with 16 points.

Red Bank Catholic (23) and Holmdel (22) finished one-two at the tournament final which was played indoors at the Atlantic Club in Wall Township.

"We have a lot of good players in the county," said Dassa, noting that it made her back-to-back wins even more significant for her. "Winning it last year gave me some confidence."

Dassa beat the No. 1 seed, Lindsay Balsamo from Wall High School, 3-6, 7-5 and 6-4 to win the championship.

The match turned in the ninth game of the second set with Balsamo serving for the match at 5-3. The Wall junior netted a volley off a defensive forehand by Dassa at 30- 30, and Dassa went on to win the game to make it 5-4. She held serve to even the set at 5-5. Balsamo, still reeling from missing the chance to lock up the match, was broken by Dassa again. Dassa then held serve to win the second set 7-5.

Dassa carried the momentum over to the third set, getting an early break that gave her a 2-0 lead that she never relinquished as she won the decisive set 6-4.

It was the fifth time these two standouts have played in high school and Dassa now holds a 3-2 edge over Balsamo.

Dassa, who has played first singles every year at Marlboro, credited an improved serve with helping her become a stronger player this fall. She has been able to get more free points and easier holds of serve. That proved to be the difference in the county final against Balsamo as she held serve at crucial times in the second set and was able to hold serve throughout the decisive third set.

Along with the improved serve, Dassa worked on becoming a more aggressive player by coming to the net more. It is a far cry from the way she played as a freshman.

"As a freshman I was scared to win," she said. "Now I'm making shots."

Dassa certainly earned her second straight county title. She had to win three matches in one day just to get to the final. She defeated the No. 4 seed, Bianca Petcu of Freehold Township, in straight sets, and then needed three sets to beat No. 2 seed Dena Tannenbaum of Red Bank Catholic in the semifinals.

Because of all the rain in October, it took three weeks for the final to be played on Oct. 31. It was worth the wait for Dassa, who finished the season with a 17-1 record overall (her only loss was outside the Shore Conference).

The only regret Dassa had about the 2009 season was not being able to play in the state tournament. Illness kept her from participating. That made the county championship all the more important.

Marlboro had another great season on the courts, winning the Shore Conference A North Division title and reaching the Shore Conference Tournament and Central Jersey Group IV semifinals. The Mustangs were 16-2 overall.

"We had a great season," said Dassa. "We were undefeated in conference. Winning [A North] is a big deal to us."

The Mustangs will lose only one starter from the 2009 season, Rachel Ger at third singles. Dassa believes her team can be even better in 2010.

Nikita Raman, one of the top second singles players in the Shore Conference, will be back, along with doubles players Lauren Nguyen and Robyn Belen and Jessica Lehner and Jessica Einstein.

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