Southern Lehigh Tennis Team Makes History at District and State Matches

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Erica Wang

Senior Michelle Li (left) and sophomore Evelyn Wang (right) hug across the net after their District XI 3A semi-final match.

Saskia Van't Hof, Editor-in-Chief

With an unwavering expression of concentration and a racket raised to her chest, senior Michelle Li looked intimidating on the tennis court. On the opposite side of the net, sophomore Evelyn Wang returned the intensity. The crowd — made up of a surprisingly large number of parents for 10 am on a Wednesday — anxiously waited for the start of the match that would put just one player into the final. With the first serve toss of the ball cutting through the tension, the PIAA District XI 3A semi-final match began.

There was no doubt that this match was important to the two athletes. And yet, it was already guaranteed that Southern Lehigh would be in the final–no matter which girl won. The players may have been on the opposite sides of the court, but they were both wearing matching blue uniforms, each with a white Spartan embroidered on the front. 

This year, the Southern Lehigh Girls Tennis Team dominated as one of the strongest teams in the area. In both the singles tournament and the doubles tournament (which occurred a week later), two of the four players or pairs in the District XI semi-finals were from Southern Lehigh. Rather than playing opponents from other teams, they had to play against each other.

“Normally, districts are where you play with people from out of the colonial league who you’ve never seen before,” Evelyn Wang said. “Seeing Michelle, someone I practice with every single day and someone whose game I know so well, I had to think to myself ‘ok, this is going to a different kind of game.

The semi-final between Evelyn Wang and Michelle Li was not even the first match of the day to put two Southern Lehigh players against each other. Just a few hours earlier, Li narrowly defeated fellow teammate and senior Erica Wang, older sister of Evelyn, in the quarterfinal of the singles tournament.

“I think the three singles players are all really close in level, so it’s completely up in the air who wins,” Li said. “In the back of my mind, I do still have that competitive mindset whoever I play, but at the same time, I felt like it was more fun to play with [Erica and Evelyn] because I know them so well, and they’re so good.”

When Southern Lehigh girls are playing against each other, they are also forced to think more independently during the match.

“It’s very tough to watch teammates play each other in important matches like districts,” Coach Andraea Drabenstott said. “As a coach, I can’t help either with strategy or emotional support during the match, so they are completely on their own. As players, they know they are trying to end the other’s chances of advancing. When it’s over, though, they are still teammates and friends who support each other, and that’s what matters most.”

After a grueling three sets of the semi-final match, it was sophomore Evelyn Wang who advanced to the final. By the end of the tournament, Southern Lehigh won second place in singles (Evelyn Wang) and doubles (Evelyn and Erica Wang), and took home first place in the team tournament. 

The PIAA District XI wins were among many accomplishments throughout the season. Aside from one loss to Moravian Preparatory Academy, the team had an undefeated season. 

“Personally, I think this is the best season I’ve ever had,” Erica Wang said, “so I’m really proud of how the team has played this year.”

At the Colonial League championships, the two doubles teams and the overall team placed second. Individually, Evelyn Wang placed first, Michelle Li placed second, and Erica Wang placed first in the first, second, and third singles accordingly.

“It was a pretty big moment for me because this was the first time I won in first singles at the Colonial League, since I was in second singles last year,” Evelyn Wang said. “The girl I beat in the finals was the only one who beat me in the regular season, so I was glad I got to play her and win this time.”

Their success at the district level means that the girls tennis team made school history by becoming the first ever tennis team at Southern Lehigh High School to advance to the Pennsylvania state semi-finals.

“The last time we won districts was when Michelle and I were on the [starting] team as freshmen,” Erica Wang said. “We’ve really wanted to win again since, but we’ve never quite made it. I think we were all really excited to go to the states one last time. Even just making it past the first round of states was insane.”

Although the team’s season ended at the state semi-finals, the players worked hard and had no regrets.

“The stakes feel pretty high at the state level, but I kept a competitive mindset by reminding myself that each set could be the last ever,” Li said. “I wanted to show in my game that this is what I was working so hard for over these past four years of high school and more, and if I was going to go out, then I wanted to go out swinging — no pun intended.”

The tennis team celebrates after winning the last game of their regular season. Photo credit: Southern Lehigh Girls Tennis Team.