Corina Muntean and Isabel Zhou entered the Andover girls tennis season as the No. 1 and No. 2 singles players. And little separated the two on the court.
The sophomores had to duel it out in a handful of challenge matches, with Zhou taking over as the No. 1 for this season, but Muntean right there competing with her.
That teammate competition didn’t hinder their play, as they both starred on the way to leading Andover to a 17-1 record season record and the No. 1 seed in the Division 1 North tournament.
The Golden Warriors opened the tournaments with a win over archrival North Andover, before falling to defending state champion Acton-Boxboro in the Division 1 North semifinals.
Both Muntean and Zhou picked up crucial 6-0, 6-0 victories in that North Andover postseason win.
“No matter what iteration of points we earn wins with, one of our three singles players has to win,” Andover coach Alan Hibino said. “We have strength in numbers. Our depth is great, and with these two sophomores leading the charge, you feel confident going into many matches.”
Muntean, last year’s No. 1, has excelled in the second spot, finishing the regular season 10-0 in team matches. A year ago, as a freshman, she was an All-MVC selection, going 12-7 and 10-1 against MVC competition.
Zhou has fared quite well at first singles, going 11-3 in the regular season and earning Merrimack Valley Conference Division 1 Player of the Year. She was an MVC All-Star a season ago.
“It’s a constant competition, but we also help each other in a lot of ways,” Zhou said. “We get ready for matches together. It’s always nice to have a hitting partner.”
Is there any bad feelings between the two with all that competition?
There’s no malice in competition, as the two friends are far more focused on making themselves, and each other, better, Muntean said.
Hibino noted that, because of the implications the challenge matches have on the season, the two can get testy at times. But there’s a mutual understanding and respect between Andover’s top two singles players.
“Sometimes (challenge matches) can get pretty heated,” said Hibino, who was named MVC Division 1 Coach of the Year. “But it goes to show how good of friends and teammates they are, that it’s, ‘Hey, you beat me, fair is fair.’”
Zhou and Muntean have kept each other on their toes and continued to improve from their freshman year, pushing each other and putting in work on the side to grow as players, Hibino said.
The step up they’ve both taken this season has been very noticeable to the coach, and something he thinks epitomizes the players’ team-first mentality.
“They’ve both gotten much better since last year,” Hibino said. “It shows that it doesn’t matter if you are first or second singles, it’s all about the team for them.”