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CIF CHAMPS! Cerritos goes wire to wire in 2012, captures school’s first girls tennis championship


By Loren Kopff

CLAREMONT-This time, the Cerritos girls tennis team was prepared and ready to claim what they thought they should have claimed last season. Backed by a solid performance from their doubles play, the top ranked Lady Dons slammed Redlands 14-4 in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division IV finals last Friday afternoon at The Claremont Club under blustery conditions.
After falling short last season to Buckley 10-8 in its first trip ever to the finals, Cerritos came out with a vengeance despite arriving to The Claremont Club literally minutes before the two teams lined up for player introductions. Cerritos head coach Alvin Kim took the team to a facility in nearby Upland where it spent the morning warming up.
“Last year was our first year and we had no idea what we were doing,” Kim said. “We were sneaking out onto courts trying to warm-up and I felt that we just weren’t ready because of that. This year, the whole strategy was just to be more prepared. I wanted to get over there for them to eat and for us to warm-up.”
“It’s really emotional because last year we were runner-ups,” said junior Michelle Yang. “So, watching the number one [ranked team] get presented with their medals…it was really emotional for them. Now that we’re in this position, I feel happy because [junior] Rachel [Guadarrama] and I actually got to contribute this time. I’m just happy for our team.”
Just like their semifinal match against Santa Ynez, the Lady Dons (25-0) breezed through the first two rounds, owning a 37-14 advantage in games won after the first round. Sophomore Katie Wee, the No. 2 singles player, began the onslaught with a 6-1 win over Sheila Torres. Her younger sister, freshman Shirline Wee at No. 3 blanked Brianna Torres 6-0 as did the No. 3 doubles team of Guadarrama and Yang over Myriam Larif and Bao Nghi Nguyen.
No. 2 seniors Alyssa Le and Christine Troung doubled up Hollyn Bakland and Lisa Aubry 6-3 before junior Taylor Heath, the team’s top singles player posted a 6-4 win over Shyamlee Nanda. That set the stage for the first competitive set of the day which involved the top doubles team of seniors Michelle Jen and Katrina Tan. They were trailing Anushka Paladugu and Heidi Lai throughout the majority of the set before winning 7-6 (7-5). They were even down 1-3 in the tiebreaker.
“Our No. 1 doubles got off to a slow start again but for them to just claw their way back was a big deal,” Kim said. “They were down 1-4 and 2-5 and came back in the tiebreaker to win. All of the close matches we won.”
Heath began the second round with a 6-1 win over Torres before Jen and Tan pushed Cerritos closer to clinching the title with a 6-3 win over Larif and Nguyen. That was followed by a pair of 7-5 wins in doubles action. First, Le and Troung defeated Paladugu and Lai, then Guadarrama and Yang officially clinched the championship with their win over Bakland and Aubry. In all, the doubles won all nine sets.
“It was really close because we’re nervous to be here and we’re nervous to win,” Yang said. “I think overall we just tried really hard and even if we were down, we always kept on fighting for every last point. That’s partially why we pulled off those close wins.”
Redlands finally posted a win when Nanda edged Katie Wee 7-5. In fact, Nanda earned half of Redlands victories as she blanked sophomore Niyati Patel 6-0, who was a substitute for Shirline Wee in the third round. Shirline Wee also defeated James 6-4 and figures to be a major factor in the success of the girls program for the next three seasons.
“She’s been great except for a few hiccups, and those have really shown how young she is,” Kim said. “Even in that last [set], she could have easily dropped it. She was getting upset at the crowd and the noise and a couple of comments made. With the experience, you have to realize that you can’t be surprised about things like that. They’re very normal and they happen all the time.”
While the Lady Dons graduate most of their doubles’ players, the team will be solid with the Wee sisters and Heath returning, Shirline Wee was the Suburban League champion while Heath was the runner-up.
“A lot of people misinterpret Taylor’s body language as being apathetic,” Kim said. “But really she’s just introverted. The huge court just really isn’t what she’s comfortable with. She’s a slow starter and we had changed her strategies a couple of times during the first set. Eventually she pulled through and I think experience is a big thing for her.”
With as many as 11 players returning next season, Cerritos should be the favorite to make it a third straight trip to the finals and win its second straight championship.
“We knew that we were the favored team but anything can happen in championship matches,” Kim said. “It’s just been a long journey. We had a video that we showed on the bus where we had girls from 10 different classes just sharing how badly they wanted this and how hard they worked to win it their year and how they fell short. It’s a very, very big deal.”
“We’re really ambitious of the team and we came here to win CIF,” Yang said. “I think losing so close really motivated us to try harder for next time. We trained even harder this season.”