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Valencia High tennis: Miles ahead of the rest

Valencia boys are putting together a historically dominant run through the Foothill League this year

Posted: April 22, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 22, 2012 1:55 a.m.

The 2012 Valencia varsity boys tennis team has won 142 of their 144 sets in Foothill League play this year, posting an 8-0 mark in league matches. Those kinds of number draw comparisons to a handful of other dominating seasons seen by other Santa Clarita Valley teams.

The Valencia boys tennis team is in the midst of likely the most dominant run in Foothill League boys tennis history.

It’s not just that the Vikings are 8-0 in the Foothill League.

It’s that they’ve dropped two sets.

Again, that’s two sets.

They are 142-2 in sets this season.

So the trivia question will be, who beat the Vikings?

In the second match of the season, the Hart High doubles team of Tommy LaBat and Rohan Shankar won a set, as did the Saugus team of Josh Hill and Grant Vaziri on Thursday in the eighth match.

Other than, it’s been utter dominance.

It’s a rarity to see this kind of dominance in the Foothill League because of the amount of parity.

Yet the word “dominant” gets bounced around with frequency.

But then there are the few teams who are true juggernauts.

In the last decade, for one reason or another, most have come from Valencia High School — the 2009 football team, the 2008 boys volleyball team and the 2007 softball team. Both were CIF-Southern Section division champions and were named national champions.

But no one can forget the success Saugus has had in girls cross country.

Since the first Foothill League girls cross country meet of 2006, the top of the team standings has known nothing but Saugus blue. The Centurions are a perfect 18-0 at league meets over the past six seasons, and moreover, the same five girls — Shannon Murakami, Katie Dunn, Kaylin Mahoney, Stephanie Bulder and Karis Frankian — have combined to win 16 of those 18 meets.

But that only tells part of the story, because Saugus’ depth has been the real reason it’s rolled through Foothill League competition. Not once has a Saugus varsity runner finished outside the top 20 individually at any league meet, and in two seasons — 2007 and 2010 — no runner finished outside the top 10. The Centurions’ deep lineup was best exemplified at league finals in 2008, when it became the first team in league history to sweep the top seven individual spots.

In 2007, Valencia softball outscored its opponents 82-5 in 10 Foothill League games in 2007.

In that run, there was a string of five straight shutouts.

It helped that the team had the state player of the year, Jordan Taylor, pitching.

Valencia football went 5-0 in the Foothill in 2009 and outscored its league opponents 252-24 or an average margin of victory of nearly 46 points. The Vikings scored 49 points in four games and 56 in the other.

“That team had great leaders and all of them wouldn’t settle for mediocre,” says Valencia defensive coordinator Robert Waters. “Our goal every single week wasn’t necessarily to shut out (the opponent). It was always and always is every year to break the opponents’ will. To play so well and suffocate them so much that by the fourth quarter they don’t want to be on the field.”

Going further back, Canyon football destroyed Golden League teams in 1985. In five league contests, they outscored opponents 181-12, shutting three teams out and allowing just 2.4 points per game.

More than a decade later, the Hart girls soccer team of 1997 became the most dominant soccer team in valley history.

They went 10-0 in Foothill play, shut out their first five opponents and outscored teams 39-3.

In volleyball, the 2008 Valencia team swept every single league team — that’s a 30-0 mark in games.

“That year, 2008, we just had so many great athletes. I believe we had six guys get recruited and play (NCAA) Division I volleyball,” says former Valencia boys volleyball head coach Mark Knudsen. “We had a lot of seniors — a very talented group going into the season.”

Knudsen said there was a rarity in his coaching style with this particular team.

Sure, the goal was to win every match — but there was a more ambitious goal with this team to go through league play without a game loss, 10 sweeps.

“I normally wouldn’t think about not dropping a game. It’s an unnecessary distraction, but that team we needed the extra focus, the extra goal to push themselves as a group,” Knudsen said. “There was so much talent. There was a risk of being complacent.”

That’s the same story with 2012 Valencia boys tennis in terms of setting a different goal than just the victory.

The Vikings don’t have the NCAA Division I talent that the volleyball team had, yet with the Foothill League being down in talent this season and with the Vikings having varsity veterans, it has allowed the Vikings to pounce on the competition.

The moment the Vikings knew they could make a near-flawless run through the Foothill League was after match one when they beat West Ranch 18-0. The Wildcats have finished in second place in the Foothill each of the last five seasons and have been a constant threat to the Vikings.

“I challenge them,” says Valencia head tennis coach Annie Kellogg of her players. “You have to go out there and challenge yourself in matches, just like in practice.”

Kellogg encourages competition in practice by having a point system. In that point system, there are also negative points for double faults and missed second serve returns.

Kellogg reasons that puting her players in pressure situations during practice will only benefit them during matches.

Maybe it has.

Valencia as a team has been dominant, but so has its individuals.

No. 1 singles player J.R. Macalutas has dropped just 13 games this season.

No. 2 Joey Fernicola has dropped just 15 with seven coming on Thursday.

The doubles team of David Myers and Cameron Braun, nicknamed “The Hellhounds” for their grit, have 10 6-0 victories in league play.

Despite their play in the Foothill League, the success might not translate to a CIF title.

As Kellogg points out, she doesn’t have any tennis players currently bound to play NCAA Division I tennis.

Plus, the lack of competition could hurt the Vikings down the road.

But who knows?

They have something working in their favor that has led them to be the dominant team they’ve been in the Foothill League.

They go for the throat.

If there’s a perception that high school tennis is a passive sport, don’t tell that to Valencia’s senior Ronit Ghosh.

He hasn’t played for the Vikings since the first league match due to a wrist injury, but that hasn’t stopped him from setting the tone for his team.

He has written speeches for his team during the league season.

They’re vivid.

One spoke of what perfection is.

Another talked about saving up anger and using it as energy on a tennis court.

Want to know how serious being dominant is to this team?

Try this line from Ghosh’s speech.

“Because every point that they score against us is a little prick of blood that falls down against our tall Viking bodies and endangers our victory.”

That’s how serious they are.



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