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Building an SCV dynasty

Dedication and observation have turned Valencia tennis into a powerhouse

Posted: November 1, 2009 10:40 p.m.
Updated: November 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.

(Valencia girls tennis players from top, left to right) Ashley Herrera in 2002, Cassie Strange in 2004, Kristin Anderson and Monique Palmera in 2005, Isabella Fraczek in 2006, Thalia Wilczynski in 2008, Chelsie Dietz and Andrea Zammit in 2009, the 2006 Valencia girls tennis team, Courtney Kaska and Lehren MacKay in 2006.

 
Valencia’s tennis programs weren’t an overnight success.

While the girls recorded their share of an eighth straight Foothill League title Thursday and the boys have won seven of the last eight titles, the Vikings had a steep learning curve.

Annie Kellogg, head coach of the boys and girls varsity programs since the teams began competing at that level in 1995, remembers well the trips to the woodshed her teams were given courtesy of Burbank and Hart in the first few years.

“Hart’s boys teams were quite a powerhouse. … Burbank used to kick our butts 18-0 with subs in,” Kellogg recalls.

By the mid-1990s, the Bulldogs had supplanted Hart as the preeminent Foothill League tennis power, with Burbank’s boys putting together a 116-match winning streak in league play before leaving the league after the 2004 season.

Burbank beat the Vikings 18-0 twice in boys and girls during Kellogg’s first seasons. Hart surrendered only a game.

But Kellogg used the losses as a learning experience, gleaning from rival coaches what she could to help her players.

“(Former longtime Burbank tennis head coach) Clyde Richards had a great program. … Right at the beginning, I could see it’s not about gettin  g a couple of good kids on the team, it’s about teaching tennis and growing tennis as a sport,” Kellogg says.

“I can remember sitting out in the bleachers picking (Richards’) brain and trying to learn what I could from his teams. Everybody else kind of knew the ropes, and I was the new kid on the block then. And I think they’d all been competing for a while. … He wasn’t threatened by me because they were killing us.”

In 1997, Valencia began using fundraisers like selling candy bars to buy ball machines that fed players shots. Eventually, the program raised enough to buy a pair of used machines from Stanford University’s tennis program for $1,000. “It was a lot of See’s candy bars,” Kellogg says with a laugh.

But it was a solid investment. The players spent so much time around the machines they were nicknamed “Gigi” and “Monica,” after tennis stars Gigi Fernandez and Monica Seles.

It would take a few years, but eventually the Vikings would prove formidable.

“I remember the first time we beat Hart, that was huge for us,” Kellogg says.

On March 26, 1998, the boys’ team notched Valencia’s first-ever win over a Hart varsity tennis program when a 9-9 match finished with the Vikings ahead 72-66 in games.

Former Hart boys and girls tennis head coach Chris Mansfield remembers watching the rise of Valencia and talked about the extra time and practice it takes to sustain a high level of play for a program.

“(Kellogg) puts in so much time with her kids. Sure, they’ve had some good tennis players there, but she puts in a lot of hours with those kids year-round, teaching clinics in the summer. …  She’s also a good player who understands doubles strategy very well. … By about 2000, that program was really gaining momentum,” Mansfield says.

By 2002, Kellogg says the attitude had definitely changed.

Patrick Farschian, who played varsity tennis at Valencia from 2000-03, remembers using The Signal’s 2002 Foothill League tennis preview as motivation, because it all but guaranteed Burbank a league title.

Farschian wrote a letter published in The Signal upset with how his team was discounted in the article.

“Our team was just determined that year to win and win our first league championship. When I saw that (article), I took it personally for myself and team. I didn’t think it was going to be in the paper,” he says.

But that year, Farschian and the Vikings ended Burbank’s 14-year streak of Foothill League titles by taking a share of their first.

“Our coach definitely worked us hard, but it paid off. ... There was no time for vacation if you wanted to succeed on that team,” Farschian says.

Yet Farschian and J.J. Patino, who played for the Vikings from 2001-04, emphasized how Kellogg built relationships on her teams that continue today.

“That’s what I think the difference is, how much time coach Kellogg spends with her players. She taught so many lessons. ... Like how it’s not only important to be a good player but a good observer,” Patino said.

“(The team) would come up with strategy together on how we would play each team. She would kind of figure it out and help us use it to our advantage.”

Thalia Wilczynski, who transferred from Saugus to Valencia in 2005 before her sophomore season when her family moved, says the togetherness and attitude of the program is really what sets Valencia apart.

“At Valencia, they just practiced longer hours, the players cared more about tennis and the players put more time into the program. At that time, it just seemed like we wanted it more than everyone else, we were on a different level,” says Wilczynski, who now coaches junior varsity at Valencia.

Eventually, Valencia put together its own streaks.

After a two-set loss to Burbank on Oct. 3, 2003, the girls team began a six-year, 56-match string of Foothill League wins ended by West Ranch on Oct. 22. The girls have also made it to the CIF-Southern Section finals for the last four seasons.

Several coaches mentioned is how tennis’ popularity has grown since the start of the run, and Mansfield noted geography has played a complementary role for Valencia.

“Of course, it doesn’t hurt that The Paseo Club is down the street,” Mansfield says.

Just as the Burbank Tennis Center was named by Kellogg as factoring in Burbank High’s ability to create a strong program, Kellogg says Valencia High’s proximity to the valley’s only tennis center, which opened in 2003, epitomizes what she felt was an important trend for the entire league — the growth of tennis in the valley in conjunction with outlets for players to learn the game.

Both Wilczynski and Kellogg mentioned the rapid growth of West Ranch’s program as proof of the league’s parity.

“(Foothill League) schools now have players (as freshman) that know how to play tennis. I used to have to try to find athletes and get them to come out for the team. But now most of the kids have experience. It’s tremendously helpful. Tennis in this whole valley has improved,” Kellogg says.

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