Hillsborough High School senior Gina Li has been the leader of the girls tennis team since her freshman year. During her fours years at Hillsborough she has compiled a 63-11-2 record.
Li is undefeated this year and this past Sunday became Somerset County First Singles Champion defeating Kelly Wiliford of Ridge in a tough three set battle, 6-0, 5-7, 6-2. The middle set that she dropped to Wiliford on her way to the county title was the first set she’s lost this year.
The Rutgers-bound Li started playing when she was 3 or 4 and when not practicing with the Hillsborough team has a demanding coach at home – her dad.
“He can be pretty tough at times but he knows every aspect of my game. He doesn’t even have to be at the match but he can tell me what I’ve been doing right or wrong,” said Li.
Li’s mother, Meng Zhang, also credits Hillsborough head coach Larry Johnson for her daughter’s improvement and success.
“Being part of the team has given Gina the chance to practice her leadership skills. Coach Johnson always knows what to say to her and he can always make her smile and laugh when she’s down,” said Zhang.
No better example of that was after Li lost the second set of her county final match to Wiliford. Li, who started out on fire, winning the first 8 games of the match, had just dropped 7 of the next 10, including 5 straight service breaks, to lose the second set 5-7. Li was visibly down on herself after the set. But a pep talk from Coach Johnson got her going again and she got back to her first set form to win the set, match, and title 6-2.
When asked what he told her, Coach Johnson replied “I said, 'if we’re going to have to be here for a third set and have to miss the football games [it was 1 p.m. on Sunday] you better win.'”
Li had a little different take on the conversation just saying that Coach Johnson told her to stay positive and keep her head up, but either way the result of the conversation was evident on the court.
While looking forward to college, Li says she will miss her high school teammates and all the support they have given her. While Li was the only Raider to make it to the county finals Sunday, her teammates were there in Bridgewater cheering her on.
The seeding for the state championship tournament is this week and Li hopes to do even better than last year when she lost in the quarterfinals of the state singles.