Enjoying the journey: MFS tennis reveling life as No.1 in New Jersey

Moorestown Friends School poses for a group photo after a convincing 4-1 win at Moorestown last week. The Foxes entered October as the No.1 ranked team in the state and has visions of not only collecting their second straight state, but taking home a Tournament of Champions title, too. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

A year ago, she persevered through a grueling 3 ½ hours in the Non-Public B championship’s third singles match to clinch her team’s first state championship in program history. 

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Moorestown Friends School senior Elena Styliades stood outside the fence along with coaches and parents, wearing a brace over her wrist. Her teammates were taking on town rival Moorestown, one of South Jersey’s perennial tennis titans. The Foxes won the match, 4-1, even with Styliades on the sidelines.

“They’re strong, too,” Styliades said of her respect for Moorestown, a team with 12 state titles in program history. “So it’s really exciting.”

Styliades, who will play at St. Lawrence University next year and is on a first doubles team with Skye Mada this season, will return before the postseason begins, joining a talented Moorestown Friends roster that includes fellow senior Renna Mohsen-Breen, the No.1 seeded player in the NJSIAA state singles tournament, sophomore Bella Pescatore, German exchange student Lisa Seiler, and second doubles team Bailey Butterworth and Natalie Julien. It’s a roster not only destined to repeat as state champions, but one with visions of collecting a Tournament of Champions title, too.

“I think we can do that if everyone is playing the high level of tennis they’re playing right now,” Styliades said. “I think we definitely can do it.”

There’s no reason to question the Foxes’ lofty aspirations after a memorable opening month. Moorestown Friends did all of the following in the season’s first five weeks:

  • Beat Kent Place, previously the No.1 team in the state, to earn the No.1 distinction in capturing the Moorestown Classic championship. 
  • Pulled off an improbable feat in having all three of their singles players (Mohsen-Breen, Pescatore, Seiler) advance to the semifinals of the South Jersey Interscholastic Championships, the area’s premiere in-season singles tournament. Haddonfield coach Jeff Holman, South Jersey’s dean of tennis with more than 40 years of coaching on both the girls and boys teams, couldn’t think of the last time another team had pulled that off. 
  • Nearly swept their way to the Burlington County Championship, winning at each of the first four positions.
  • For the second straight season, beat Moorestown, a team MFS coach Mike Bodary, in his 12th season with the Foxes, hadn’t been able to beat on the boys or girls side before 2018.
  • Saw Mohsen-Breen, the SJIC champion, earn the top seed in the NJSIAA singles tournament and teammates Pescatore and Seiler also earn top-32 seeds, making MFS the only team with each of its singles players among the top 32. 

“It’s insane,” Styliades said.

“It’s amazing,” said Pescatore, who was the runner-up to Mohsen-Breen in the SJIC. “Being a small school, to be able to bring out all of these players (is great). We have a strong three singles and our doubles teams work really well together. So it’s really cool.”

Moorestown Friends School sophomore Bella Pescatore follow through on a backhand at second singles. Although she plays second singles at MFS, Pescatore was the runner-up (to teammate Mohen-Breen) in the prestigious South Jersey Interscholastic Championships singles tournament. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

Moorestown Friends can obviously serve and volley with anyone at anytime on the court. But perhaps what’s most impressive is the way the team carries itself both on and off the court. 

The Foxes play with a genuine enthusiasm. They make each other laugh during matches. They race to see who can win their matches first. They gather around the fence when their own matches are over to watch friends and foes alike.

At a school where sportsmanship is celebrated more than winning, maybe this isn’t surprising. But it is admirable for a team that often makes the winning look easy.

“We want to win, but – we’re trying to take it day by day and just having fun in the moment,” Mohsen-Breen said. “Because at the end of the day, if we don’t win Tournament of Champions, we still had a fun season.”

Mohsen-Breen, who will play next season for Division III-power Wesleyan University, still has hoisting the Tournament of Champions trophy as her top goal for her senior season. But neither the Foxes’ top player nor anyone else on the roster wastes too much energy focusing on the end game or upholding their current title as the No.1 team in the state. 

Because, what’s the point in stressing over the final destination for two months if you’re not enjoying every step of the journey?

Moorestown Friends School senior Renna Mohsen-Breen enjoys a laugh with a teammate during a break in her match at first singles. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

“This group is the tightest I’ve ever seen,” Bodary said. “Sometimes you have issues, ‘I should play in front of so-and-so,’ but (not this group). They are really, really tight. You can see them, they get along great with each other. Even when they’re competing against each other (in practice) they come off and have a big hug.”

Even with its current No.1 ranking, Moorestown Friends, with an enrollment of 227 students, would still play a David-like role against whatever North Jersey Goliath it may face if it does make it back to the Tournament of Champions. Bridgewater Raritan, the team they dropped a 3-2 decision to in the T of C semifinals last year, has over 2,000 students, ditto East Brunswick, the school currently ranked third in the state, between MFS and Kent Place.

They may be little, but the Foxes are fierce.

“Two years ago, we had 17 girls (come) out (for the team), last year we had 27 and this year we had 38 out,” Bodary said. “I think they want to be part of a winning organization, and luckily we’ve had some good results in the last couple of years. We’re going to miss some key players after this year, but it’s been a fun ride. … Hopefully we’ll keep it going.”