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Foothill tennis: Old rivalry, new look

Valencia and West Ranch are fighting for second place

Posted: October 4, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: October 4, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Valencia doubles team Lindsay Wolf, left, and Alekhya Bommireddipalli adjust the score during a match against West Ranch at Valencia High on Wednesday.

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The rivalry between West Ranch and Valencia girls tennis looked a little but different when the two met at Valencia High School on Wednesday afternoon.

The match marked the first time in Foothill League history that neither team entered their head-to-head meeting with an undefeated league record.

But that didn’t change the intensity, as both squads’ losses to Hart earlier in the season only served to magnify the importance of Wednesday’s match, which Valencia won 12-6.

“Everybody knows that Hart is the team to beat, and you have beat Hart. But the other side of that is you can’t have any other league losses,” said Valencia assistant head coach Jen Azevedo.

Valencia (13-4, 4-1) showcased its strength, a balanced attack that can win sets in both singles and doubles.

Led by No. 1 singles player Brigitta Benitez’s 6-2, 6-0, 6-1 sweep, the Vikings won eight of nine singles sets.

“I didn’t feel pressure, we felt pretty confident,” Benitez said. “We felt we could take on West Ranch (7-3, 3-2) and the attitude was really positive.”

West Ranch’s No. 1 doubles team of MacKenzie Lyle and Amanda Wilkinson kept the Wildcats in the match through two rounds, sweeping 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

The No. 3 doubles team of Hannah El-Arabi and Sydney Schwartz also played well for West Ranch, picking up two sets to take five of nine on the doubles side.

In a match that pitted the defending league champion Wildcats against Valencia, which finished second in the 2011 standings, this year’s addition took on a different look — particularly for the Wildcats.

Without its top singles player and doubles team returning, West Ranch couldn’t make up ground on Valencia.

West Ranch No. 1 singles player Julia Lynch struggled on the day, dropping matches to Benitez, Sabrina Wueste and substitute Stacey Lowe, who was playing in her first set since suffering an ankle sprain in a preseason tournament, according to Azevedo.

“A lot of times, a 30 to 40 minute set is decided in 90 seconds,” said West Ranch head coach Eric Spiecker. “There’s this 90-second window that one team walks through that decides the set. There was a couple of those where we didn’t determine the sets when we had an opportunity. If we can kick through some of those doors, it might be closer.
And things are different when it’s close.”

As the Wildcats walked off the court on Wednesday, they chanted “Wildcats need work.”

That work will need to be done quickly, as the Wildcats host league-leading Hart today at 3 p.m.

For Valencia, the win was nice, but things are far from settled with a rematch on the horizon, and the Vikings know they can’t count on sweeping Lynch the next time around.

“Julia’s a tough player and we played her well,” Azevedo said. “But there’s no way you can sit back on your heels and say, ‘We’ll take eight of nine sets (in the next match).’ They were in it the whole way through — their doubles were on fire today.”

Fortunately for Valencia, its singles ruled the day on Wednesday, keeping it just one game out of first place at the halfway point of Foothill League play.

The Vikings will start the second half today with a match today at Saugus at 3 p.m.

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