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Valencia's Brigitta Benitez: A crowning capstone

The successful four-year career of Valencia’s Brigitta Benitez has helped the Vikings stay on top

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

Valencia senior Brigitta Benitez has now been a part of three Foothill League championships while on the varsity tennis team.

 

When her emotional match with Hart’s Proyfon Lohaphaisan ended Tuesday, Valencia senior Brigitta Benitez fell to her knees in joy.

She had just delivered the one thing that had kept the Vikings from defeating league-favorite Hart in their first match of the season — a singles victory. And in doing so, she left the door open for a team win, and more importantly, a league title.

Benitez, who has been playing varsity tennis since her freshman year, has seen the highs and lows of Valencia tennis.
The Vikings won league championships in both her freshman and sophomore seasons, extending the program’s streak to nine consecutive titles.

But last season, things went in a different direction.

The streak ended at the hands of rival West Ranch, which defeated Valencia twice to win the title outright and end the Vikings’ streak.

This season, Benitez was determined to get her team back to the top, and to prove that she could fill her role as the best player on the 2012 Valencia squad.

“This is my senior year. We must get another (championship) board,” she said just before the match with Hart, referring to the board Valencia hangs to commemorate its league titles. “I want my name up there. I want my picture up there. I really want that 2012 board up there.”

In the past, she said she was content to defer to other players on the team, confident that if she struggled, others would pick up the slack.

This year, that pressure fell squarely on her shoulders — and she rose to the occasion.

“She has been on some great winning teams that we’ve had. And this was her opportunity,” says Valencia head coach Annie Kellogg. “I knew it was going to be hard against Hart, but it’s your senior year. I just told her ‘You have to leave it on the table.”

And that’s exactly what she did.

But succeeding on her own is nothing new for the entrepreneurial 16 year old.

At 12, she walked up and down her neighborhood cul-de-sac in search of neighbors who would hire her as a pet sitter.
At 14 she was helping her mother, Monica Benitez, teach dance classes, and has taught children how to play tennis for years.

Now, she’s added photography to her repertoire, shooting events and portraits to earn some extra money on the side.
“She’s always been an entrepreneur, and she’s always been the type of person to take what she wants, rather than wait for it to be handed to her. She really has some entrepreneurial skills in there,” Monica says. “She is very eager, she loves photography. She loves to dance. And she loves tennis and is very eager to get jump-started on her career.”

She’d love for that career to be in the photography world, something she picked up in eighth grade and has since turned into a money-generating hobby by shooting everything from baptisms to family portraits.

“I take pictures at events and I do private photo shoots and I really enjoy it,” she says. “I really like to do things that involve my creativity. It’s not just sports all the time.”

She credits her parents with helping her become successful at such a young age.

Her mother, an entrepreneur in her own right who came to the United States from Hungary and owns a dance studio in Glendale, encouraged her to try “as many hobbies as possible,” she says.

Brigitta also credits her father, Tony, for his support — and for taking her for her prematch ritual of iced coffee.

“My dad really has been helpful and has always been there for me,” she says. “He’s always been there to help me and support me and he takes time out of his day to come and see me play.”

On Thursday, what he saw was the culmination of her goal, as Valencia easily defeated West Ranch to secure a co-league championship.

In a pivotal week for the Valencia tennis team, which trailed Hart by 1 1/2 games with three to play, she went 6-3, the best singles result on her team. That paced the Vikings to their 10th title in 11 years as they went on to defeat Hart, and followed that up with wins over Canyon and West Ranch.

And Benitez, who always wears her emotions on her sleeve, showed her excitement on each and every point.

Then again, being known for her personality on the court hasn’t always been a good thing.

When things aren’t going as well, she can become visibly upset, something that prompted Kellogg to instill the motto “Shine, don’t whine,” to remind her to stay in the moment.

“I just want her to feed off that positive emotion,” Kellogg says.

But for Benitez, that’s just who she is.

“I know my ability and when it gets to that point and I don’t achieve what I’m capable of achieving, it’s heartbreaking and it destroys me emotionally,” Benitez says.

When everything was on the line, though, she shined.

And as a result, she led her team to the 2012 Foothill League title.

“It feels so great when you’re under that pressure and you come through and you win. It made my senior year,” she says. “It’s truly remarkable that we were able to accomplish that, and it was a lot of hard work to get to where we are now.”

661-287-5536

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