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2013 Foothill League boys tennis preview: Chasing the same favorite

Valencia the clear frontrunner, as has been the case for the past decade

Posted: March 18, 2013 10:30 p.m.
Updated: March 18, 2013 10:30 p.m.

Saugus junior Tristin Thierry could be one of the Foothill League's best singles players.

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In recent years, the Valencia Vikings boys tennis team enters the Foothill League season as the clear favorites to capture a title, and all but once in the past 10 seasons have they failed to live up to that billing.

In this regard, 2013 will be no different than the past decade, as Valencia is once again the unanimous favorite among coaches to be the best team in league play.

But after a recent stretch in which the rest of the Foothill League has served merely as a forum for the Vikings to post gaudy statistics and best their own school records, Hart, West Ranch, Golden Valley, Saugus and Canyon will make this season more interesting than it has been in a long time — even if the battle is for No. 2.

“I think you are looking at a year in which the No. 2 team in league has three losses,” said Hart head coach Chris Mansfield. “It’s definitely going to be very intense.”



Valencia

Of course one team that has shown little to no drop off during the rebuilding process is Valencia, which fields many returners from a 2012 team that lost just three sets all last season during league play.

But while many players are back, the look is different.

After playing behind two-time Foothill League Player of the Year J.R. Macalutas a season ago Valencia senior Joey Fernicola appeared to be the logical successor to the former Viking.

Yet while Fernicola is poised for another great season, sophomore Chad LeDuff, an All-Foothill League doubles player a year ago, has emerged as the Vikings No. 1 singles option.

“Chad’s been playing a lot of tournaments and has a big game,” said Vikings head coach Annie Kellogg. “He was great last year in doubles too. It’s just I usually like to ease freshmen into our tennis program like I’ve done with players like J.R. in the past.”

That’s not to say there has been much of a drop-off in doubles due to LeDuff’s ascent.

David Myers and Cameron Braun, the 2012 Foothill League Doubles Team of the Year both return, but will split up in favor of adding team depth.

Myers will continue to play doubles with Vikings junior Sam Rebele, while Braun and senior Chris Pope will split time in singles, and as a doubles team together, throughout the season.

“Our team this year was like a basketball team with a bunch of really good big guys in the middle who like to dunk but needed guards,” Kellogg said. “We just needed to spread things out at the back of the singles and top of the doubles order to piece together the best lineup.”

And once again, the Vikings lineup is, beyond a doubt, the best in the Santa Clarita Valley.



West Ranch

Last year’s second-place finisher, West Ranch, returns with both a lot of question marks and a lot of potential.

With the departure of Baron Von Kessler and Kirill Lipa, the Wildcats are searching for a new batch of reliable singles players.

“Teams continue to recycle, and I always want to pay tribute to guys like Baron and honor the contributions he made,” said West Ranch head coach Eric Spiecker. “But we have a great crew of guys now that just show so much enthusiasm.”

Wildcats junior Chris Gaw has emerged as the team’s No. 1 singles player in a lineup that may not possess the skill of some of its past squads, but has the team chemistry to do what it takes to deliver critical points, sets or matches.

Juniors Logan Boute, Jonathan Y. Lee and Kevin Lin, along with senior Alex Sajnani, will round out the latter singles positions as well as fill any team needs at doubles.

Right now, the Wildcats will look to Jonathan Lee and Brandon Oh to provide some stability in doubles, as the promising tandem of freshmen Ruben Banerjee and Nikhil Bhumralkar have shown great potential.

“After being that team that sort of always fit in to second place, I’m excited about the opportunity we have to run through a competitive fight in league this year,” Spiecker said.



Saugus

Saugus is less worried about its No. 1 duo.

Centurions juniors Peter Nguyen and Jack Archibald have been praised by Foothill League coaches alike and the pairing, which played together last season on junior varsity, will look to help Saugus improve upon last year’s third-place finish.

The two of them step in for last year’s No. 1 doubles team of Josh Hill and Grant Vaziri, who are both returning but moved to singles.

While Saugus may not know exactly what kind of production to expect at the Nos. 2 and 3 spots in both singles and doubles, the Centurions have perhaps, after Valencia, the league’s two most reliable No. 1 slots.

Saugus junior Tristin Thierry will look to follow up his breakout season as an All-Foothill League singles selection with another stellar year.

Despite struggling with consistency, Thierry went 24-10 in league and became the first Saugus singles player to reach the Foothill League semifinals in eight years.

Now a year older, says Saugus head coach Allan Hardbarger, the athletic junior can likely take the next step and assert himself as the best singles player in the Foothill League.

“Tristin has gotten a lot more consistent. He’s more powerful with his strokes and he’s able to hit his spots with his second serve, which was an issue last year,” Hardbarger said.



Hart

After a few rough years, the Indians returned to form in 2012, finishing a competitive 5-5 in league and posting a fourth-place league finish.

Unfortunately, nine seniors from that team are now gone, and Hart will have to take the next step and retool the majority of its doubles lineup at the same time.

That task will be slightly easier due to the return of Hart senior and 2012 All-Foothill League doubles player Tommy LaBat, who serves as the team’s unequivocal leader.

The departure of LaBat’s partner, Rohan Shankar, along with the LaBat’s recovery from a back injury, has led him to play singles this season — although he may round out his squad’s No. 1 doubles unit if he’s asked to do so.

Elliot Miller and Brandon Dam constitute the rest of the Indians’ strong singles lineup, which Mansfield says, “is the deepest I’ve had in quite a while.”

Freshmen Sam Delgado and Griffin Krumrine have been given ample playing time during Hart’s busy preseason in which the Indians have gone 6-4, although the pairing is subject to change.



Golden Valley

The Golden Valley Grizzlies may have finished fifth place in league a season ago, but Golden Valley has the assets, especially in singles play, to serve as this season’s wild card despite returning only three starters.

After an impressive freshman campaign, Golden Valley sophomore Brandon Yu will return as the Grizzlies No. 1 player. He’ll be backed by senior Brian Park at the No. 2 slot of a singles lineup that may have to shoulder the burden of capturing extra games, as the Grizzlies have no seniors in doubles and saw their best player there, Brandon Sen, graduate a year ago.

Right now, the pairings of sophomore Justin Dulay and junior Anthony Oquindo, and juniors Yash Shah and Dahn Pham will look to capture the critical sets their teams will need if Golden Valley hopes to compete for a seemingly up-for-grabs second-place finish.

“I’d really like for us to put in the work this season,” said Grizzlies head coach Josh Stimac. “We’re always close, but still at the bottom of the heap. I’d like this year to be the one where we climb in there a little more.”



Canyon

Canyon looks to be at the bottom of the pack once again after going winless in league a year ago. But the Cowboys are starting fresh with a roster replete with underclassmen, which has Canyon head coach Annie Araujo excited.

“It’s nice knowing that we are working with a team in which everybody is staying for long practices and stepping up and getting better,” Araujo said. “And the best part is that basically everybody will come back, so we can really take the steps to rebuild.”

That rebuilding process begins with former JV players Philip Elterman and Daniel Leitzell, who head a singles lineup rounded out by freshman Cobe Rebhun.

The remaining roster is filled with freshmen and sophomore players, leaving Canyon, which has played tough but went winless in preseason, with a lot of work to be done.

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