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CIF-SS DIV. 4 BOYS TENNIS FINALS-Cerritos doubles put together late wins to knock off Nordhoff, claim program’s third title

The Cerritos High boys tennis team won the program’s third CIF-Southern Section championship in four attempts, this time edging Nordhoff High 10-8 last Friday in the Division 4 finals. The Dons previously won the 2008 and 2009 championships after losing in the 2007 title match. PHOTO BY LOREN KOPFF.


By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

CLAREMONT-The Cerritos High boys tennis program has made its way to The Claremont Club to play for a CIF-Southern Section divisional title four times. After tying Viewpoint High 9-9 but falling three games short in the 2007 Division IV finals, the Dons returned the next season as the top team in the division, and defeated Rowland High 10-8.

Cerritos was ranked first in 2009 when it crushed Laguna Beach High 15-3 and last Friday, as the No. 1 team in Division 4, the Dons broke an 8-8 tie with wins from their top doubles team and their No. 3 duo to edge 10th ranked Nordhoff High 10-8.

“Words can’t describe the experience right now,” said Cerritos head coach Henry Ayesiga. “As a coach, it’s my first time advancing this far. The closest I’ve gone was the quarterfinals last year with the girls. Adding on a championship right now goes beyond everything I could imagine.

“It’s a very special moment for the players; it’s a special moment for the team,” he later said. “They have been really focused this whole season and they’ve put up a good fight in every run. It hasn’t been an easy journey getting here. They really deserved this victory.”

Cerritos was up 8-5 before Nordhoff won the next three sets. At this point, the Dons, who finished the season at 16-8, were leading 77-60 in games played. But, after going 5-4 in singles’ play, the second place representatives from the 605 League had won three of seven doubles’ sets and needed to win one more. That would come from the No. 1 doubles team of senior Angelo Andal and junior Matthew Phan, who defeated Nordhoff’s No. 3 pair of Caleb Sauceda and Dylan Francis 6-3.

“We knew we had to win that one or else it went to a games score,” said Andai. “We tried our best and at the end, we got the win. There were some iffy calls by the other team, and I think they might have messed up a few points.”

The final set of the match came from seniors Arjun Ayyappan and Mathew George, who breezed past Robert Holdsworth and Lunchih Jamyang 6-2. It was the pair’s second win of the afternoon, having previously defeated Sauceda/Francis 6-0 in the second set of the match.

“We kind of had a plan to concentrate on their number two and three at the end,” said Ayesiga. “Their number one doubles was just a very good team. They have a very powerful server. We knew the last run was going to be tough and the boys put up a good fight.”

Cerritos was looking good through the first round, taking four of the if the first six sets. Senior Michael Rafael, the team’s No. 1 singles player had as good of a performance as any tennis player can have. He swept all three sets over No. 1 Eric Schmidt, No. 2 Campbell Gaston and No. 3 Rowan Gillooly.

“It’s amazing; it’s a feeling I’ve never experienced before,” said Rafael. “I’m just glad to be a part of this team.

“I just felt good throughout the day,” he later said. “I just tried to go out there and get every win and have faith that my teammates will have my back. Today they did and I’m just happy we got the win overall.”

“When he goes on the court, he really has fun,” said Ayesiga. “As far as this season went, he’s one of the few players we didn’t have to worry about. I love his confidence and he goes on the court and gets the job done.”

Sophomore Hunter Vong, the No. 2 singles player, posted wins over Gaston (6-2) and Gillooly (6-3) while junior Thomas Pham lost his three sets by scores of 6-4, 6-3 and 6-4.

“We did have a strong start and as the match progressed, it started to become a little shaky,” said Ayesiga. “Towards the end, the boys really had to fight their way through the championship. I won’t say the last run was easy. At some point, it did seem like the odds were not in our favor. But the boys had to fight that last run.”

The No. 2 doubles team of junior Chen Zhang and sophomore Brady Sugino posted a 6-3 win over Holdsworth/Jamyang and 6-1 over Sauceda/Francis before falling to the No. 1 duo of Cole Everett and Gavin Johnson 6-1.

The Dons, who dominated the Suburban League until moving to the 605 League at the beginning of the 2018-2019 season, had not been tested that much in the postseason prior to the finals. Cerritos defeated unranked Thatcher High 12-6 in the opening round, followed by wins over unranked San Dimas High (13-5), unranked Rancho Alamitos High (12-6) and fourth-ranked Heritage High (15-3).

“I think we were definitely motivated that we saw Whitney here and that Oxford, I think our bigger rival, got knocked out in the quarterfinals,” said Andal. “It motivated us more to win this because they beat us in league.”

“It was a lot of pressure and our first round against Thatcher was really tough,” said Rafael. “They gave us a scare. But after that, we got into our rhythm, and we took care of business.”