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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION III BOYS TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIP
By Loren Kopff
CLAREMONT-Wes Williams, the 19-year veteran head coach of the Whitney boys tennis team, was confident that his team would emerge with a 10-8 win over Valencia in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III championship match. He predicted that six wins would come in singles play and the other four in doubles action.
The Wildcats held their own in singles early on but failed to hold leads in three critical doubles sets and the top-seeded Tigers came away with an 11-7 victory this past Wednesday at the Claremont Club. Whitney was seeking its first CIF championship since 2003 and second in school history. In 2003, Whitney capped off a 21-2 season in by defeating Fairmont Prep 11-7 in the finals. Two years later, Viewpoint crushed the Wildcats 13-5. Since then, Whitney had not advanced past the second round of the playoffs until this season.
“I don’t like to preach about myself,” Williams said. “But I’m going to instill confidence in them. So, I did tell them we’ve been there before. I challenged them to beat all of the other Whitney teams. Since we were in Division III and we won Division V, they got this far and they beat [the 2003 team]. They accepted my challenge and won.”
It wasn’t looking promising after the first round with second seeded Whitney losing all three of its doubles sets as the Empire League champions led 4-2. The two wins came from No. 2 singles junior Sathwick Pathireddy, a 7-5 win over Matt Pham after trailing 3-5, and No. 3 singles junior Ruthwick Pathireddy, a 6-1 victor over Jeremiah Sahabu.
The Wildcats clawed their way back in the early portion of the second round when the No. 2 doubles team of sophomore Gabriel Cupino and junior Samuel Lau rallied from 5-6 deficit to defeat Michael Im/Ryan Mangosong 7-6 (7-4). Moments later, No. 1 freshman Mitchell Hoang and senior Alexander Pham trailed Valencia’s No. 2 Yash Kelkar and Daniel Kim 3-0, 4-3 and 5-4 and then won two of the last four points while serving in the tiebreaker. Those two results knotted the match at 4-4.
But the No. 3 doubles of freshman Timothy Lee and junior Charles Xue fell to Shadrin Andres/Lindsey Youngquist 5-7, then two losses on the singles side made it 7-4 in favor of the Tigers. Sathwick Pathireddy closed out the second round with a 6-4 win over Sahabu after trailing 4-1 and again, the Wildcats were feeling a little bit of momentum swing their way.
“So many of our singles [sets] have come from behind to win like that,” Williams said. “I tried to get him to be a little more aggressive. He’s been doing that all season long. He seems to not tire.”
The third round began with Andres/Youngquist completing a match sweep with a 6-3 win over Cupino/Lau. Then Kelkar/ Kim breezed past Lee/Xue 6-1, virtually clinching the championship at 9-5 and holding a 61-59 advantage in games won. The Tigers officially won the match when Im/Mangosong rallied from three games down to beat Hoang/Pham 6-4.
“I thought they played up to their skill in those and then they kind of let down in this last round,” Williams said. “They were very nervous, I thought, in the beginning. The top two teams didn’t play well in the first round.”
“I thought Mitch did extremely well,” Williams added. “He played way above his head He surprised me.”
While the Wildcats have been in the finals before, they fielded a team with one senior, four juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen. The Tigers, on the other hand, were making their fourth straight trip to the Claremont Club, having lost the past three seasons.
“When you think about high school, in four years it’s over and usually you don’t get the freshmen,” Williams said. “So in three years, it’s over with. The experience, I don’t think, really comes in [as a factor].”
The final two wins came from No. 1 sophomore Vignesh Sadras, a 6-4 decision over substitute Matt Yee, and Ruthwick Pathireddy, a 6-0 victory over Sahabu. Whitney ends the season at 22-3, a far cry from going 15-7 last season. This is the first time since 2003 that the Wildcats have won at least 20 matches and their second seeded spot was their highest since being the top ranked team in 2004, as well as 2003.
“When I look back, I did not think we could win league, much less get here,” Williams said. “The boys really had to be convinced they could do it.”
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