Quinterra Walter-Eze took her time, gathering the words in her mind.
Ten seconds, 11 seconds, 12, and finally….
“What do I like about playing with Cori?” Walter-Eze mused about her playing partner for the West Ranch girls tennis team, Cori Raffish.
The answer: Raffish’s encouraging spirit and surprising hits.
“She would have an overhead, and I would be in my mind, ‘Cori, let it go. You’re going to miss it,’” Walter-Eze says, “and then she would smash it down and I would be like, ‘Dang, I have a good partner.’”
And for Raffish?
“I don’t think there is anything bad about playing doubles with Quinterra,” she says.
Raffish and Walter-Eze’s harmonious doubles relationship characterized a fun West Ranch bunch that this year rolled to the program’s first Foothill League title since 2011.
And the duo’s play led the way.
Raffish and Walter-Eze went 20-1 in regular season Foothill League sets and won the league individual tournament doubles title. Now, the seniors are the 2016 All-Santa Clarita Valley Girls Tennis Doubles Team of the Year.
That wasn’t the expectation a year ago, though.
Walter-Eze was playing singles. Raffish had a different partner.
Then Wildcats coach Dina McBride placed them together and, well, it clicked.
Coming into this season, Walter-Eze wanted to play with Raffish again, and for obvious reasons.
“Cori will be like, ‘You played so good today. I played horribly, but you played so good,’” Walter-Eze says. “But it’s actually the opposite. She’s just trying to make me feel better.”
The encouragement wasn’t a one-way street, though.
Raffish says Walter-Eze’s confidence before crucial matches against Valencia, which West Ranch beat twice this season by identical 13-5 scores, made it easier for her to stay calm.
Walter-Eze’s steady demeanor carried over to her play.
“She is one of the most reliable players on our team and in the valley,” Raffish says.
That doesn’t mean Walter-Eze is always easygoing. She said after the Foothill individual tournament that she wasn’t content to secure a CIF bid by advancing through the semifinals. She wanted to beat West Ranch teammates Dani Hettinger and Brittany Waugh in the final.
So, that’s what Walter-Eze and Raffish did. They won 6-3, 6-3.
A first-round loss in the CIF-Southern Section individual sectionals left a bitter taste, but that won’t be the memory the top Cats pairing takes away from this season.
“It was a good season because there was very little drama on the team, everyone got along, everyone supported each other,” Raffish says.
Everyone followed this duo’s lead.
All-SCV Doubles Team
Taylor Cohen and Nicole Stefani, Valencia, sophomore and junior
Cohen and Stefani were at their best when it mattered most. Yes, Valencia lost to West Ranch in both Foothill League matchups. But Cohen and Stefani more than held their own against a stacked Wildcats doubles lineup. The Valencia pairing was the only one to beat the 2016 Doubles Team of the Year, Quinterra Walter-Eze and Cori Raffish, during Foothill League play. Cohen and Stefani took down the league’s top duo 6-4 (they lost the other meeting, 6-0). The Vikings pair advanced to the semifinals of the league individual tournament. They lost the third-place match to West Ranch’s Audrey Kim and Emily Andrews.
Dani Hettinger and Brittany Waugh, West Ranch, junior and senior
This is Waugh’s third straight appearance on the All-SCV doubles team. Hettinger and Waugh helped lead the Wildcats to their first Foothill League title since 2011. The duo went 21-2 in Foothill sets and 38-9 overall. They split with Valencia’s Taylor Cohen and Nicole Stefani during league play and beat the Vikings duo in the league tournament, advancing to the finals where they lost to Quinterra Walter-Eze and Cori Raffish. Waugh and Hettinger made it to the second round of the CIF individual postseason.
Waugh made the All-SCV team with Julia Lynch as her partner in 2014 and with Olivia Bloome last season.
Audrey Kim and Emily Andrews, West Ranch, sophomores
This says it all. The Wildcats third doubles team was one of the league’s best, a fact that made dealing with West Ranch more than any Foothill team could handle. The Wildcats swept Valencia this season, both by a 13-5 score, to win the Foothill League title outright. Kim and Andrews won the outright-title-clinching set against the Vikings in mid-October. At the Foothill individual tournament, Kim and Andrews beat Valencia’s Vasvi Mongia and Ahanti Bommireddipalli to advanced to the semifinals where they lost to teammates Walter-Eze and Raffish.
Canyon — Adrienne Kashay, Senior
Golden Valley — Kirsten Azarraga, Junior
Hart — Mansi Sharma, Sophomore
Saugus — Ada Hanamaikai, Junior
West Ranch — Una Stanisavljevic, Junior
Valencia — Lindsey Gollom and Christina Fletcher