Tess Fisher and Emily Manzo dominated the local high school tennis scene the past five years.

Fisher, of Vineland Hgh School, won the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament championship for four straight years and earned a state title as a senior in 2017. She now plays for Rutgers University.

Egg Harbor Township’s Emily Manzo took second place to Fisher in 2016 and ’17 before winning the CAL title last fall. She now plays at Monmouth University.

That leaves the top spot wide open for competition this year. An informal survey of local coaches confirmed there’s no consensus No. 1. Players from nine area schools were offered as likely contenders.

Several names were mentioned more often than others. Two of those players are juniors this year. Charisse Tigrado, 16, of Galloway Township, plays for Cedar Creek. She made it to the CAL quarterfinals her freshman year and was runner-up to Manzo last year.

Tigrado began playing tennis when she was 10.

“I originally started playing with a friend,” Tigrado said. “I used to do kickboxing and jiujitsu but transitioned into tennis because, (at the time) it was easier.”

She played field hockey for two years in middle school but tennis has remained her focus. Tigrado plays yearround, attending camps, practicing with her own coach and competing in United States Tennis Association (USTA) tournaments.

She likes the competition.

“Its mental,” Tigrado said. “In a game, if you’re down, you have to remind yourself not to give up and keep going no matter what the score is. You’re by yourself on the court. You have to forget about your mistakes and improve on that.”

She enjoys watching professional player Naomi Osaka, winner of last year’s U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open. She relates her own competitive mindset to Osaka’s at last year’s U.S. Open when despite conflict between Serena Williams and the umpire and boos from the crowd, Osaka remained focused and secured her first Grand Slam tournament victory.

“She was just playing tennis, not paying attention to the drama,” Tigrado explained. “For me, I don’t even know the score. You just have the pressure on yourself.”

Tigrado would like to one day play in college but more immediately, she hopes to get through this season injury free and win the CAL Tournament. “I won’t give up easily,” Tigrado said.

The other player coaches repeatedly mentioned as someone to watch is Egg Harbor Township junior Samantha Phung. She helped win the CAL first doubles title as a freshman and made it into the second round at second singles as a sophomore. She was undefeated against CAL opponents during the regular season both years.

Phung got into tennis when she was 5.

“It all started with my dad. He brought my sister and I out and started teaching us tennis,” the 16-year-old said. “Around 6 or 7, I started lessons, and my love for tennis grew from there.”

The intensity of tennis appeals to Phung. “I prefer tennis over any other team sport because I get to play these very fast points, take a break and then get back into it.”

“I like how fast it is, how you have to utilize strategy,” she said. “You have to be aware of your game and the other person’s game.”

Outside of tennis, Phung said, she loves to draw. “And academics are also very important in my life,” she added.

Phung’s father has continued to be an asset in her development as a player. Outside of high school, she has a coach with whom she goes to clinics, but instead of playing in tournaments, she’s facing the man who first showed her the sport.

“He’s still really good, and I learn something every time I play him,” Phung said of her father.

She also hopes to play in college, if not varsity, at least on a club team. “I definitely want to do something with tennis later on in life,” Phung said.

Her goals this year are simple. “Have fun, don’t stress out too much and enjoy it.”

Both Tigrado and Phung think there are other great players in South Jersey and neither ranked themselves as No. 1.

What everyone seems to agree upon is that there are a lot of girls with the skills to challenge for the top spot, and that should make for an exciting couple of months of tennis.

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