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Foothill League boys tennis preview: Foothill has familiar feel

After limited turnover, a lot of the league’s top players return to their teams

Posted: March 20, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 20, 2012 1:55 a.m.
West Ranch senior Baron Von Kessler is back to help his team challenge Valencia for the league title. The Wildcats have finished second five years in a row. West Ranch senior Baron Von Kessler is back to help his team challenge Valencia for the league title. The Wildcats have finished second five years in a row.
West Ranch senior Baron Von Kessler is back to help his team challenge Valencia for the league title. The Wildcats have finished second five years in a row.

Naturally, the Foothill League has experienced some turnover.

But other than a few minor lineup changes, the league basically looks the same.

Many of the top players are still around and the top teams are, in all likelihood, going to remain on top.

Valencia has won five straight league championships and nine in the last 10 years for a reason. Year after year, the Vikings put the best combination of talent, depth and experience on the court. It doesn’t look like 2012 is going to be any different.

If anyone was hit by turnover, it was West Ranch, the Vikings’ toughest challenger through the past five seasons. The Wildcats will have their work cut out trying to fill the gaps.

That could leave the door open for an experienced Hart team or a team filled with promising, skillful players like Saugus or Golden Valley.

Meanwhile, Canyon is going to have to replace one of the league’s best players from a year ago.


Last year was supposed to be somewhat of a rebuilding season for Valencia, yet it still won all 10 league matches to extend its five-year unbeaten streak to 51 straight wins against Foothill opponents.

With the amount of talent coming back, the distance between the Vikings and the rest of the league only appears to grow larger.

Head coach Annie Kellogg isn’t assuming anything yet.

“Even though there are a lot of the same guys, it’s always different just because of the combinations and the camaraderie,” Kellogg said. “It’s always different.”

Reigning All-Santa Clarita Valley Singles Player of the Year J.R. Macalutas comes back for his senior year to once again lead the squad at No. 1 singles.

Following him is sophomore Joey Fernicola, who was part of last year’s All-SCV Doubles Team of the Year with the now-graduated Anders Jansson.

Junior Chris Pope rounds out a singles lineup which features three players who can match up with any other player in the league.

Add the fact that junior teammates Cameron Braun and David Myers have been playing at a high level at the No. 1 doubles spot and you have a recipe for dominance in league play.

Against tough competition, the Vikings are 4-2 in dual matches this season and 9-0 in tournament play.

That includes a second victory in the past three years at the California High School Boys Tennis Classic earlier this month in Clovis. Valencia won the Division II pool.

“They’ve got to have more confidence, serving better turns and more confidence,” Kellogg said. “That’s the main thing. They’re going to have to push themselves.”

West Ranch

In each of the past five seasons, the Wildcats have finished second in league behind Valencia.

With the loss of six key starters from last year, not even second place is a given for West Ranch.

“It seems it has been a two-horse race for league the past several years,” said head coach Eric Spiecker. “I think this year we will see a lot of close matches with several teams. I think our team is ready to embrace the challenges of each match and enjoy the battle.”

On the positive side, No. 1 singles player and senior Baron Von Kessler is back, as is fellow senior Kirill Lipa.

Lipa is in the No. 2 singles spot after playing doubles last year.

Other than the two seniors, there have been a lot of tweaking with lineups and moving players around to find the right combinations.

It’s been an uphill battle trying to replace the team’s deep doubles pairings from last year.

The Wildcats will also have to go without talented singles player Harrison Collins, a sophomore who didn’t return to the team for personal reasons.

Playing in the top doubles spot looks to be the young combination of freshman Chris Gaw and sophomore Jonathan Lee.

They’ve been two of the more consistent players in a preleague season for the Wildcats (2-2) that has yielded mixed results.

“The ups are becoming more consistent, and the downs are less frequent,” Spiecker said.  “Hopefully they will be playing their best by (this week).”


Everything changes when you’re no longer the underdog.

That’s the case with Saugus this year, coming off its first playoff appearance since 1996 after finishing third place in league last season.

Now the Centurions have to back it up after losing some key pieces from last year’s successful run.

“The mentality is different for us this year,” said head coach Allan Hardbarger. “Whereas last year we might have snuck up on some people because we haven’t made the playoffs in a while, but I think this year, the guys really want to make a return trip.”

The team will have to do it without its two best singles players and one of its best doubles players from the 2011 season.

Sophomore Tristin Thierry has made the biggest leap on the team, going from No. 1 doubles to the No. 1 singles spot.

Thierry’s usual playing partner from last year, Chris MacDonald, is now paired with Nick Burgess in Saugus’ doubles lineup, which has been strength of the team in recent years.

Grant Vaziri and returning junior Josh Hill will bolster the Centurions (2-5) at No. 1 doubles, and newcomers Tomas Vu and Seth Phelps add needed depth at the No. 3 spot.


The matchup between Hart and Saugus could be a key one for third place in Foothill competition.

Give the Indians an edge in experience, with David Afework representing the team’s most significant loss from a year ago.

Afework is a senior this year, but chose not to return to the court for Hart.

Still, head coach Chris Mansfield can’t complain about the progress of his singles lineup.

“We’ve improved tremendously in the past few weeks,” he said of the team’s 4-3 start against relatively difficult competition.

And Hart has done it without a fully healthy No. 1 singles player, junior Tommy LeBat, who is recovering from a back injury and has played doubles lately.

LeBat will move back to singles for today’s league opener against Saugus, Mansfield said.

Junior Brandon Dam and sophomore Elliot Miller add to Hart’s formidable cast of singles players.

Sophomore Michael Lange has stepped into the No. 1 doubles role along with Rohan Shankar.

Lange, a first-year varsity player, has been filling in at singles while LeBat battles the injury.

Golden Valley

Most of the league’s coaches agreed third place is up for grabs this year, meaning the Grizzlies aren’t out of the running for their first playoff berth in school history.

This year, it will all start with freshman Brandon Yu, the team’s No. 1 singles player, who is quickly picking up the varsity game.

He has made it seamless transition in replacing Myles Moore, the go-to singles player from last year.

“To pick up Brandon is definitely filling in for Myles nicely,” said head coach Josh Stimac. “He’s hitting as well as any freshman I’ve ever seen hit in this league.”

Golden Valley (3-2) also sprinkles in plenty of experience in doubles with the No. 1 team of senior Brandon Sen and junior Brian Park, a pair of varsity holdovers.

Senior Chris Allas will team up with promising sophomore newcomer Yash Shah at No. 2 doubles in a combination that is getting better with time.

“In loss and in tight matches, I think the guys are having a good time and it’s showing up on the court in the sense that they’re making fewer mistakes as the preseason wears on,” Stimac said. “They’re not as nervous.”


Player turnover and coaching turnover has left Canyon at or near the bottom of the league standings for a few years.

The Cowboys will have to deal with the loss of two-time Foothill League singles champion and four-year varsity player Jason Ferlianto.

Canyon comes back with a team that struggled to win consistent sets last year in Foothill play.


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