The turnover for Valencia High girls tennis wasn’t supposed to be so drastic.
After reaching the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 semis in 2015, the Vikings were set to return a loaded core for another deep postseason run this season.
Then star singles player Jennifer Shin elected to focus on school and tournament play, according to coach Annie Kellogg, and solid doubles player Gianna Benitez chose to finish her high school education elsewhere.
All of a sudden Amanda Tabanera wasn’t simply an up-and-coming standout on a veteran-heavy team anymore. All of a sudden the spotlight shined a little brighter on the sophomore.
But, in the end, the weight of any extra expectations that others placed on her, or the ones Tabanera put on herself, weren’t enough to keep her from rising to the top of the Foothill League.
The 2016 league individual tournament singles champion is now The Signal’s 2016 All-SCV Girls Tennis Singles Player of the Year.
“We didn’t think our team would change that much,” Tabanera says. “We lost three seniors, but throughout the summer and right before the season, a bunch of people left and coach had to change a bunch of stuff, and we all had to practice a lot more.”
Valencia, though, still had a game changer in Tabanera.
She’d earned that reputation before she arrived at Valencia in 2015.
Word had spread around the Santa Clarita Valley’s tennis community that Valencia, coming off the SCV’s first-ever tennis CIF title in ’14, was about to reload with a star freshman.
Tabanera didn’t disappoint, helping Shin and a solid doubles lineup lead Valencia to another Foothill League title.
Shin and Tabanera then teamed up to win the Foothill individual tournament doubles title.
Playing as a single, it was no sure thing Tabanera would win another individual tournament title, especially as she felt the weight of greater expectations — both from the departure of teammates and from not being a freshman anymore.
“I knew I had to step up my game because I’m no longer younger than everyone,” she says.
But Tabanera lost to West Ranch freshman Jordyn McBride in both of their regular-season matchups — the second a 6-1 rout.
The story, though, doesn’t end there.
Tabanera came back strong in the individual tournament.
“I did have (extra) motivation,” she says. “… I knew I could beat her … I just wanted to win.”
And she did.
Tabanera lost just three games through the tournament’s first three rounds, advancing to a rematch with McBride, who she’d beaten at Valencia’s Fall Brawl.
The difference — at Fall Brawl and in the finals — was the fact that Tabanera had the opportunity, she says, to play sets before taking on McBride — basically, she had an opportunity to find her groove.
Boy, did she find her groove.
Tabanera won 6-0, 6-0 to win the title.
She advanced to the CIF Individual Sectionals, making it to the third round where she lost in a tiebreaker set.
“That was really hard,” Tabanera says.
Before returning for her junior year, Tabanera plans to work on conditioning, specifically improving her leg strength.
She’ll be ready, one would think, to again bear up under whatever expectations are placed on her.
All-SCV Girls Tennis Singles Team
Jordyn McBride, West Ranch, Freshman
McBride played like a senior but brought the enthusiasm and spunk you’d expect from someone in her first varsity season. She was the best singles player during Foothill League play, going 18-0 and beating Player of the Year Amanda Tabanera twice, but Tabanera got the best of her at the Foothill individual tournament (6-0, 6-0). Expect McBride to challenge for the title for three more years and push deep into the CIF individual postseason. She made the third round this year.
Nicole Alvarez, West Ranch, Junior
Alvarez’s transfer from Hart to West Ranch over the offseason gave the already loaded Wildcats another dangerous weapon. She didn’t pull off a ground-shaking upset at the Foothill Individual tournament this year like she did last year. But she made the semifinals. Alvarez and McBride will give West Ranch a daunting one-two singles punch again next year and position the Cats for a league title repeat.
Alvarez won the third-place match at individual finals.
Megan Cho, Saugus, Senior
Cho earned All-SCV Doubles Team of the Year honors as a junior playing with then-senior Carlie Ozaki. The unquestioned headliner for the Centurions in 2016, Cho was a force in singles. She went 22-5 in regular-season sets and advanced to the Foothill individual tournament semifinals before losing to West Ranch’s Jordyn McBride. Cho fell to Alvarez in the third-place match at individual finals.