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Foothill tennis: Valencia sets sights on bigger

Vikings settle into second place in the Foothill League

Posted: October 28, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: October 28, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Valencia’s Brigitta Benitez returns a shot on Thursday against Golden Valley at Valencia High School.

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Long after their teammates had finished playing on Thursday afternoon at Valencia High, Golden Valley’s top player Rebecca Ho and Valencia’s No. 1 singles player Brigitta Benitez were locked in a grueling battle that capped Valencia’s 14-4 victory.

In the end, Ho defeated Benitez 6-3 in what was the closest match of her Foothill League season.

The set win gave Ho a perfect 27-0 league record, and a 47-1 overall record, as she swept her three sets 6-0, 6-2, 6-3.

“She’s the most determined player in the league,” said Golden Valley head coach Josh Stimac. “It’s a testimony to her hard work.”

Benitez finished the day with one win, defeating Annjela Saet, Golden Valley’s No. 3 singles player 6-1, and dropping a set to Rachel Ho, the Grizzlies’ No. 1 singles player.

With the regular season now complete for both teams, Golden Valley (7-9 overall, 3-7 Foothill League) finished in a fourth-place tie with Saugus, and Valencia finished in second place.

This season marked the first time since 2001 that the Vikings (10-7, 8-2) did not win at least a share of the league title — but the Vikings aren’t hanging their heads.

“With all the kids that we lost (from last season), I feel really good about our season,” said Valencia head coach Annie Kellogg. “We played (league champion) West Ranch in really good matches — probably their closest of the season.”

Against Golden Valley on Thursday, the Vikings doubles teams dominated, sweeping all nine sets.

The Vikings’ No. 3 squad of Ashley Keith and Tina Inchalik swept its three sets 6-0, 6-0, 6-0.

In singles play, the Grizzlies were led by Rebecca Ho’s three victories.

The Vikings’ No. 3 singles player Staci Lowe won two sets, 6-0, 6-0, dropping her match to Ho 6-2.

The highlight of the day, though, was Benitez pushing Ho as far as she has been pushed in league play.

“(Rebecca’s) a great player,” Benitez said. “I fought my hardest. I put my heart and mind into it. I’ve been working toward beating her.”

And while she didn’t pull off the feat on Thursday, she may get another chance with the two scheduled to participate in Wednesday’s Foothill League prelims at The Paseo Club on Nov. 2.

The Vikings’ victory means they should retain their No. 5 ranking in the CIF-SS Division III coaches poll, and will enter league prelims with momentum.

And without the pressure of living up to Valencia’s league winning streak hanging over its players heads, the Vikings think they’re in a good position to make noise going forward.

“I have to say the streak does put pressure on you,” Benitez said. “You want to be as good as last year. I’ll probably perform better. I don’t have the streak and the pressure. It’s all on me.”

For Golden Valley, a fourth-place finish in league and sub-.500 record mean it won’t enter the team postseason this year.

But with the success of Ho, there is reason to believe she could be Golden Valley’s first player to enter the individual playoffs if she can pull off a top-two finish at league prelims, according to Stimac.

“I feel really good,” Ho said. “The season felt really long and was hard because of all the good players. The anxiety (of the last match) didn’t make me feel great, but when I won I felt good.”

For the Vikings, the playoffs await. But the girls know that no matter what happens from this point forward, they’ll be happy with the way they finished.

“Everyone expected this team to be terrible,” Benitez said. “But my team is amazing. This team is just as good as (last season’s team).”

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