Timber Creek girls tennis coach Jean DeMarco knows just how tough the competition is in the Tri-County Conference.
After the Chargers made the switch to the Tri-County from the Olympic Conference last year — joining fellow Black Horse Pike Regional School District teams Highland and Triton — the squad went 5-8 on the year, with seven of its losses against opponents within its new conference.
But DeMarco said her squad is ready for the tougher competition in the new conference and looks forward to reaching a few team goals this year.
“We’d like to at least .500 or better (with regard to our record) and we’d also like to get at least a first round home match in the NJSIAA Tournament,” said DeMarco, who is entering her 17th season as head coach of the Chargers.
“I previously coached the boys, so I know they’ve had that honor a few times in their history,” she added. “But the girls really haven’t had too many chances to host the first round of the state tournament, so that’s why I’d really like to see that happen for them this year.
“Of course, we’d also like to challenge for our division.”
According to DeMarco, the last time the girls hosted a first round match in the state tournament was in 2011, also the last time the team finished the year with an above .500 record after going 8-6 in the Patriot Division of the Olympic Conference.
In an effort to achieve their goals, the Chargers will have to lean heavily on their senior leadership and experience to propel them past the likes of Clearview, Gloucester Tech and Kingsway, teams in the Royal Division of the Tri-County Conference. Fortunately for Timber Creek, they have exactly that — plenty of senior leadership.
“We have plenty of seniors on this year’s team, and older girls that may not have played an extreme amount of varsity but can still help those that are playing at the varsity level,” DeMarco said. “It’s a lot more pressure at the varsity level, so we’ll definitely rely on the seniors to help communicate and work with them throughout each match.”
The Chargers will return senior Monica Thomas to first singles; she started last year with a three-match-winning streak before ending the season with eight wins to lead the team. Entering her third season at first singles, Thomas will continue to serve as the top player for Timber Creek.
“She enjoyed a really good season last year,” DeMarco said. “With it being her third season at the number one spot, we’re looking for a lot from her in her final year with us.”
Having been a second-team Olympic Conference selection her sophomore year and a first-team Tri-County Conference selection last year, Thomas looks forward to once again playing the top competition in the conference to rack up as many team wins as possible for Timber Creek.
“I’ve grown a lot as a player since my freshman year, when I first started with third singles,” she said. “It can be really daunting getting used to playing match play against some pretty competitive seniors and juniors, so I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable as a singles player.
“I want to finish up this last year strong and rack up as many wins as I can individually and as a team as a whole.”
Moving up to second singles from third last year is Samantha Chung, a second year singles varsity player who didn’t play tennis her freshman year and joined the team sophomore year for her first Timber Creek sport. Having only played casual tennis with friends or family before her sophomore year, Chung worked tirelessly to be a worthy addition to the team.
“I skipped freshman year because I didn’t think I’d be good enough,” she said. “I didn’t have any kind of private coaching or play (before joining sophomore year) like some other people might have growing up. But then after my first year, it was kind of easy to get more practice in with what happened with COVID and having half-days, because I would practice with my sister (and teammate) Sabrina for two hours at the court near our house before the actual team practice started later that day … so I was able to get a lot of work in that way,” Chung added.
Entering her final season, she wants to win as many matches, both individually and as a team, as possible, but also emphasize having fun and creating a positive team atmosphere.
“As a sophomore, seeing the seniors play and win for the team was really encouraging to see everyone celebrate together,” she said. “It kind of helped everyone be encouraged to keep playing hard each match, and it’s nice to be supported by your teammates. So I want to keep that going.”