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CIF-SS Div. IV GIRLS TENNIS PLAYOFFS: WHITNEY RALLIES LATE WITH THEIR DOUBLES TO STUN FOURTH-SEEDED HACIENDA HEIGHTS WILSON

BY LOREN KOPFF

The 2019 Whitney High girls tennis season can be summed up in one big story with many interesting chapters, It started with head coach Eli Alejo taking over the team at the end of July, followed by a win over Cerritos High, eventually claiming a share of the 605 League title.

Another chapter was written when the Lady Wildcats moved to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in school history and continued with a remarkable 10-8 victory over vising Hacienda Heights Wilson High this past Monday in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 quarterfinals. Whitney, the fifth-seeded team in the division, was down 8-7 before its three doubles’ teams picked up victories to upset the fourth-seeded visiting Wildcats 10-8.

“When I first started hearing about Whitney needing a coach, and I found out from word of mouth that they had been practicing on their own without a coach, and they’re doing it from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. all summer, I said, ‘what a blessing for me’,” Alejo said. “I’m the lucky one to be hired as a coach.”

First, the tandem of freshman Kate Chiang and junior Maya Alvarez-Harmon knocked off Kristin Sung and Carol Li 6-3. Then seniors Audrey Guang and Sumedha Polu gave Whitney its first lead by an easy 6-2 win over Natalie Wu and Ivy Liang.

But the set of the entire match, which was the last one, was filled with drama and turning points. With no margin for error because had Wilson won to force the 9-9 tie, it would have won the match based on total points. Whitney was trailing Wilson by nine points entering the final set.

So, juniors Jennifer Tanurdjaja and Danielle Louie edged Mireya Castillo and Monze Meraz-Lerma 7-6 (7-4). The Whitney duo was down 6-5 and fought off two match points before forcing the tiebreaker. There, Whitney was down 1-0 before getting the next three points and never looked back.

“I’m very proud of my No. 2 doubles, that they really showed what they’re really made of,” Alejo said. “

“At that point, I had a feeling it was going to be the game that decided [the match],” Louie said. “But both my partner and I don’t think about anything. [We] just focused on the game and I think that mindset really helped us push through. At that point, we weren’t thinking about hitting winners. We were just trying to return the ball because people say tennis is a game of errors. So, we were like, let the other team be the one to make the error while we keep going strong against that team.”

Whitney, who had gone 1-6 in the playoffs since 2005, struggled in singles, winning four of the nine sets. Half of those wins came from the team’s top singles player, sophomore Camille Dang, who posted 6-0 wins over Chloe Wu and Isabella Lin after falling to Wilson’s top singles player, Arianna Audelo 6-2. Audelo is ranked 40th in the state by the United States Tennis Association.

Senior Joyce Yuan, Whitney’s No. 2, rallied from a 3-2 deficit to defeat Lin 6-4 and Wu, the No. 3 player, got out to a 3-1 lead and defeated Lin 6-3.

Whitney’s top doubles team of Guang and Polu also defeated Sung/Li 7-5 to tie the match at 3-3, then later breezed to a 6-2 win over Castillo/Meraz-Lerma to tie the match at 6-6. 

Chiang/Alvarez-Harmon also picked up a 6-3 win over Castillo/Meraz-Lerma for Whitney’s first win of the match.

“It has happened before that towards the last round, my three doubles will get better towards the end, and I was relying on that,” Alejo said. “We did well.”

Whitney (17-5) would see its dream season come to an end in the semifinals this past Wednesday as it fell to Westridge High 12-6.

“It was just us growing together and we learned from our losses,” Alejo said of the season. 

“It’s really shocking, but I think instead of us being able to get in [the semifinals], it’s really more happiness that we get to continue the tennis season with everyone because we really bonded this year,” Louie said. “So, it’s a really great experience to be able to continue to play tennis with the whole team.”

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