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Foothill League 2012 girls tennis preview

Valencia, Hart, West Ranch look to be clear top three in Foothill

Posted: September 17, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 17, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Hart junior Jackie Resler could be one of the best singles player returning this season in the Foothill League.

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The past few seasons of Foothill League girls tennis have been dominated by one matchup: Valencia vs. West Ranch.
This season, add a third team to that list.

And that team might be standing in a group all by itself — the Hart Indians.

For Valencia and West Ranch, which have spent the last few seasons trying to battle each other for the top spot, the challenge this year might just be how to stop Hart.

The Indians feature a mixture of both young and experienced talent that should lead to singles dominance for most of the season.

Valencia returns its top player in senior No. 1 Brigitta Benitez, while West Ranch has suffered the losses of all but three of its starters: including last year’s No. 1 Ana Cecilia Fuentes.

How quickly the Wildcats can restock a program that has continued to reach new frontiers over the previous three season will be one of the key’s to watch in 2012.

The group of teams at the top has grown to include Hart, but so has the gap between the powers and the rest of the league.

Competing with Valencia, West Ranch and Hart should be difficult for Saugus, Golden Valley and Canyon — though each boasts talent capable of winning on any given day.

None more so than Golden Valley, which features No. 1 singles player Rebecca Ho, who many coaches have called the best player in the league.

West Ranch

The Wildcats have been fighting for years to climb to the top of the Foothill League — and last year, that fight finally culminated in West Ranch’s first outright Foothill League title in school history.

Getting back to the top, though, might be difficult for West Ranch, which reached the CIF-Southern Section Division III semifinals the past two years.

The Wildcats return just three players: No. 1 singles player Julia Lynch, along with MacKenzie Lyle and Amanda Wilkinson.

Talent remains, sure, but the losses of Lena Poonapotam, Gabrielle Morici and Jordan Jaffee, along with Fuentes, who elected not to play high school tennis this season, appears to have made defending their Foothill League title a challenge.

That being said, the Wildcats are ready to put up a fight.

“You just build, that’s one of the exciting things about coaching is you have these great teams and then you try to make more great teams,” said West Ranch head coach Eric Spiecker. “That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to take these girls and do the best we can to make them great.”

Valencia

The Vikings return the majority of a squad that finished second in the league last season, with all three singles players and its top doubles team for the 2012 season.

Last season marked the end of Valencia’s run of nine straight Foothill League titles, and with competition as close at the top as it has been in years, getting back to championship level may prove difficult for the Vikings this season.

Leading the attempt will be Benitez and No. 2 Ashley Keith, with a plethora of depth behind them.

“I think our biggest strength is our depth and versatility,” said Valencia assistant coach Jennifer Azevedo, speaking in place of head coach Annie Kellogg.

The biggest loss for the Vikings was senior Jenny Miller, who did not return to the team this season and would have started at the top of the doubles line up.

But as Azevedo pointed out, the Vikings feature enough depth at both the varsity and junior varsity levels that they can withstand the losses of a top player.

Hart

The Indians feature the strongest top-to-bottom singles lineup in the league, with junior Jackie Resler, sophomore Proyfon Lohaphaisan and freshman Natalia Munoz all potential No. 1 players.

“I think we have one of the best singles teams we’ve had at Hart in many years,” said Hart head coach Chris Mansfield. “I think I have three No. 1 caliber players and they would probably play No. 1 on most teams in the league.”

Who is the best? That’s a question even Mansfield can’t answer.

And that’s a great problem to have.

The rest of the Foothill League will likely struggle to win singles sets against the Indians this year, but there are certainly questions that need to be answered before Hart can walk away with the league crown.

On the doubles side, Hart returns Lauren Dam and Bailey Sindle, who will make up its No. 1 doubles team.

But from there, the jury is still out on who will make up the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles teams.

“No. 2 doubles is going to be the big question mark,” Mansfield said. “We’re trying to figure that out.”

Golden Valley

The Grizzlies remain a work in progress, with a league title unlikely, but with a chance to continue the climb the program has been on in recent years, head coach Josh Stimac is excited for the opportunity.

He returns one of the league’s best players in senior Rebecca Ho, but will have to deal with the loss of her sister, Rachel Ho, to graduation when putting together his singles lineup.

Charged with filling that hole is Annjela Saet, along with newcomer Claire Lee.

“Losing Rachel is a huge loss because she was such a good player,” Stimac said. “I feel as though Rebecca is a better player this year even than she was last year and I’m looking for good things from Angela and Claire. I’m looking for good, solid, consistent play.”

In doubles, the Grizzlies return their No. 1 doubles squad of Jordan Dulay and Isabeau Lauron who will play along with two teams of  newcomers, Siyna Andreeva and Shannon Kim as well as Emily Quadros and Amalie Change.

“Basically, like all teams the real x-factor in girls tennis isn’t the top players but the bottom players,” Stimac said. “How well are my No. 2 and No. 3 doubles and No. 2 and No. 3 singles going to play?”

Saugus

Things were tough for Saugus last season, finishing in a fourth-place tie with Golden Valley.

This year, head coach Allan Hardbarger has moved some pieces around, with returning senior Jessica Moore sliding comfortably into the No. 1 singles spot vacated by the graduated Megan Soucy.

But even with Moore at the top, the losses of Soucy, Pilar Araujo and Jessica Ta are going to be tough to fill.

“That’s a big player that we lost (in Soucy) so we’re just going to have to find a way to get wins without her and the other girls will have to improve. (Araujo) was one of our top doubles players (and Ta) was another top singles and doubles player.”

Along with Moore, senior Leanne Ozaki and junior Rachel Callas will lead the doubles side. Caren Rosen has moved from doubles to the No. 2 singles slot and Abbi Bahr has moved from singles to doubles this season.

Added to the mix in 2012 are freshman Carlie Ozaki, who will play No. 3 singles for the Centurions, and Kinzie Hovey will play No. 3 doubles with Bahr.

Canyon

For the second straight season, Canyon went winless in the Foothill League, limping to a 2-11 overall record on the season.

It might be difficult for the Cowboysto get out of the cellar this season, as Canyon lost its top player in Paulette Alonsagay to graduation.

The team does return one of 2011’s bright spots in junior Brooke Licon, who will help Canyon try to rise in the Foothill League ranks.

Also helping the Cowboys this season will be the rise of a new star in freshman Katrina DeGuzman, who opened eyes in winning the singles consolation bracket of the Valencia Fall Brawl on Saturday.

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