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Foothill League boys tennis preview: Vikings’ youth could open door

Valencia has talent, but other teams have more experience

Posted: March 22, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 22, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Canyon senior singles player Jason Ferlianto has been a starter all four years with the Cowboys, and he hopes to lead the team to another CIF postseason berth this spring.

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A team with talent is one thing.

Add depth and experience to the equation, and you’ve got a championship-caliber program.

To be precise, you’ve got Valencia boys tennis, which hasn’t lost a Foothill League match since April 26, 2006, an 11-7 defeat against Hart.

That makes it a 41-match winning streak for Valencia headed into today’s opening of league play, and it’s won at least a share of the last eight league titles.

The talent is plentiful once again in the 2011 season, but the Vikings (7-0) are far from the most experienced Foothill team.

Can a team like West Ranch, which didn’t see any significant losses to graduation last year, match up with the Vikings’ young but still loaded roster?

“I don’t know. That’s why you play and see,” said Valencia head coach Annie Kellogg. “I think we’re playing pretty good. We’re 7-0 right now and we’ve played some pretty decent teams.”

Even after graduating top singles players Tyler Gottshall, who is now at Loyola Marymount University, and Ben Inchalik, who is at Cal Lutheran, Valencia has reloaded as usual.

Returning All-Santa Clarita Valley singles player J.R. Macalutas moves into the No. 1 singles spot as a junior, and senior Tayven Townsend makes the leap from No. 2 doubles to No. 2 singles.

There are plenty of new arrivals in doubles, including fast-starting freshman Joey Fernicola, who will team up with returning senior Anders Jansson in the No. 2 spot.

“I feel like I’ve got some other kids that are really enjoying doubles and having fun out there, and hopefully we’ll be at that level in the coming weeks if they’re not there already,” Kellogg said.

Countering the Vikings’ promising youth will be the Wildcats’ surplus of experience on the roster.

The two teams’ contrasting styles will first clash on April 12 at Valencia — and again on April 28 in the league finale at West Ranch.

Returning All-SCV selection Baron Von Kessler is the best West Ranch has to offer in singles play, but its doubles teams might be the ones that do the damage.

So far, the doubles teams for West Ranch (3-1) are undefeated in dual matches and they collected many of the points in Saturday’s Spring Smash, which included all six Foothill teams.

Two separate Wildcat teams made it to the semifinals of the doubles tournament, but both lost to Valencia pairs, giving the Vikings the overall victory. West Ranch came in second.

The Wildcats will have to reverse that trend if they want to snap Valencia’s streak and avoid finishing in second place for a fifth straight season.

“Best chance that we have had in years,” said West Ranch head coach Eric Spiecker. “It could be very close, or either team could run away with it. I think that outside of J.R. Macalutas, we are very evenly matched.”

Another pair of All-SCV picks from last year, Brandon Lee and Wayne Moses, will most likely lead the doubles side for the Wildcats, though Moses will have to sit out for the first portion of league play for personal reasons.

Lee, meanwhile, will team up with another senior with varsity experience, Zack Kim.

Kirill Lipa and Evan Abbott make up another doubles team that could tip the scales in a matchup with the defending league champions.

“We are looking consistent,” Spiecker said. “We might not have any standout superstars, but we have improved in every position and are strong from top to bottom.”

After those two, the league outlook is much more up in the air.

Saugus has the veteran leadership, but Hart, Golden Valley and Canyon have talent mixed with youth.

The Centurions (2-3) have one of the deepest teams in years, head coach Allan Hardbarger said.

They have two returning seniors, Spencer Parks and Sagie Mofsowitz, who will fill the Nos. 1 and 2 singles spots, respectively.

Though, Parks has been nursing a nagging shoulder injury for the past couple weeks, Hardbarger expects him and others trying to recover from minor injuries to be ready for today.

“They’ll tough it out when they get to league,” he said. “They have to.”

Also in the mix is freshman Tristin Thierry, who has partnered with Chris Macdonald on the No. 1 doubles team. They’ll be complemented by senior returner Kevin Okimoto, who plays No. 2 doubles with sophomore Josh Hill.

“We want to be a playoff team this year,” Hardbarger said of Saugus, which finished tied for fourth at 2-7-1 in Foothill play last year. “We’ve got a good mix of seniors and underclassmen. We’ve got the talent to go far in league and win a lot of games.”

Another team looking improved from last year is Hart.

The difference is Hart (3-2-1) will rely on some of its younger players as it only returns three players with significant varsity experience.

David Afework is the team’s clear-cut best player at No. 1 singles, though he has also battled a back injury for part of the season.

Holdovers Thomas LaBat and Cody Berlioz team up at No. 1 doubles for the Indians, but after that, the roster takes an experience drop-off.

“It’s up in the air,” said Hart head coach Chris Mansfield of the youth. “If these kids play together, they could be very good.”

With the loss of their best singles player Joe Reyes, the Indians will lean on freshman Elliot Miller, who may rotate between Nos. 2 and 3 singles.

There will also be question marks in doubles play as Hart will need to replace Kevin Tanner and Austin Morgan, last year’s No. 1 pairing.

Perhaps the least experienced team in the league, Golden Valley, may be the dark horse to take the final automatic playoff spot this season.

In the Spring Smash over the weekend, Grizzlies’ No. 1 singles player Myles Moore took the consolation title, defeating Afework 8-1 in the final.

Golden Valley (3-1) lost seven of its nine starters to graduation last year, but first-year head coach Josh Stimac likes that he has inherited a mostly brand-new team.

“Guys are improving,” Stimac said. “They seem to have a lot of energy. Obviously, there’s room for improvement, but I think we look pretty decent.”

Sophomore Brian Park has earned a solid spot at No. 2 singles, and junior Caleb Kim will likely move around the doubles lineup, which has shuffled throughout pre-league play.

However, the Grizzlies will still have to fill the void from the losses of singles players Nikki Shim and Chris Kim as well as a No. 1 doubles player Justin Kong.

“If you walk out on the court and assume we’re no good, then you won’t win,” Stimac said.

Despite the fact that Canyon brings back one of the league’s top singles players in four-year varsity starter Jason Ferlianto, it could be a rebuilding year for the youthful Cowboys.

The other two singles players on last year’s roster, Matt Kincaid and Kevin Snovicky, graduated, so it could be difficult for Canyon to revive the third-place finish and 6-4 record it had in Foothill play last season.

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