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Foothill tennis: Thinnest of margins

Valencia hands Hart first league loss to keep its championship hopes alive

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

Valencia's Brigitta Benitez returns a shot against Hart at Valencia on Tuesday. Valencia defeated Hart 9-9 (71-69 in games).

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It was do or die for Valencia girls tennis on Tuesday afternoon at Valencia High School if it had any hope of winning a Foothill League title.

Locked in a down-to-the-wire match with Hart, which was looking to clinch its first Foothill League title since 1998, Valencia’s Brigitta Benitez picked up a much-needed singles set against the Indians’ Proyfon Lohaphaisan, and the Valencia doubles team of Remy Balmain and Jenny Ralston secured a come-from-behind victory that proved to be the pivotal moments in the Vikings’ 9-9 (71-69 in games) victory.

“I told the girls the reason we stay longer and work harder and practice longer hours than any other team in the Foothill League is for this week,” said Valencia head coach Annie Kellogg, whose team likely needs to go 3-0 this week to finish as co-champions.

Valencia (16-4 overall, 7-1 Foothill League) entered the match 1 1/2 games behind Hart for first place in the league standings, and an Indians win would have put Hart 2 1/2 ahead with one match to play.

With the sun quickly setting over the Valencia courts, the Vikings Sabrina Wueste was pushing Lohaphaisan to the edge as the Valencia players began to crunch the numbers and realize that no matter the result, they would win the match.

When it was over, Lohaphaisan took the set 7-5, to go 7-5, 6-0, 3-6 on the day, but it was Vikings’ players rushing the court to celebrate the overall victory.

Getting to that point, though, wasn’t nearly as predictable.

On the adjacent courts, Hart’s No. 1 doubles team of Lauren Dam and Bailey Sindle had just dropped the set to Balmain and Ralston, 7-5, despite being up 5-3.

“We both knew (it was pivotal),” Dam said. “But what it comes down to is we played our best and we gave it all we had. In the end, it didn’t come out in our favor, but we can’t change that.”

In the second round, it was Benitez, the Vikings’ No. 1 singles player, with the momentum changer — a 6-3 victory over Lohaphaisan in a match she had trailed 3-1.

In addition to beating Lohaphaisan, Benitez won a total of 13 games for the Vikings, going 5-7, 6-3, 2-6 in the match.

“I told her, ‘Listen, you have to shine, not whine,’” Kellogg said. “‘This is your senior year. You’re the best player on this team. You have to shine and not whine.’ And finally, she got that together in the second set and played like it against Natalia (Munoz), as well.”

Benitez ended up losing her set to Munoz, 7-5, but the five games proved key to the final result.

The match was a meeting of conflicting styles, with Hart (11-3, 8-1) showcasing a dominant singles side this season, and Valencia having an advantage in doubles play in nearly every match it’s played.

In the first meeting between the two schools, a 10-8 Hart victory on Sept. 27, the Indians swept in singles with Dam and Sindle picking up one doubles set to win the match.

On Thursday, things were a bit different.

Munoz, Hart’s No. 1 singles player, swept three sets 6-2, 6-0, 7-5 and No. 3 player Jackie Resler swept 6-0, 6-0, 6-2, but it was the 20 total games for Valencia in singles, compared with 16 for Hart in doubles, that made the difference.

“There is no one place, it took all nine of my kids to win this,” Kellogg said. “I don’t have the superstars like they have. We had to sweep their No. 3 doubles. We had to sweep the No. 2 doubles. In those sets we gave up two games. If we give up more than those two games we don’t win.”

With the victory, Valencia pulls within a 1/2 game of Hart in the Foothill League standings.

After seeing its run of nine straight league titles end when West Ranch won outright in 2011, Valencia now has a chance for its 10th league title in 11 years if it can defeat Canyon in a make-up match today at Valencia at 3 p.m., and at West Ranch on Thursday at 3 p.m.

“I think this win is the best I’ve ever had,” Benitez said. “We’re not the top players. We don’t just go out and kill
everyone — we have to work for our wins.”

If Valencia and Hart both win out, Hart is scheduled to host Canyon on Thursday at 3 p.m., the two will split the league title and Hart will enter the postseason as the Foothill League’s No. 1 seed by virtue of outscoring Valencia in sets 19-17 on the season, according to Hart head coach Chris Mansfield.


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