Off the tennis court they are good friends.
Even on the court they sometimes team up to play doubles.
But for a two-hour window on Friday at the Seal Beach Tennis Center in Orange County, Golden Valley’s Justine Dondonay and Chadwick School’s Casie Wooten were opponents, facing off in the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Girls Tennis Championships.
The familiarity between the two, not to mention they are two of the best high school players in Southern California, made for an exhilarating and close match — which Dondonay lost 6-4, 6-3.
Dondonay hit with great power and pushed Wooten around the court, but Wooten used her speed and agility to return tough shots and forced Dondonay out of her rhythm.
“We both know our games really well. As doubles partners she knows I’m an attacker, so she probably prepared, trained especially for my game,” Dondonay said.
“It was rough. She was making me run everywhere,” Wooten said. “I was getting really tired so I was trying to anticipate where she was going to hit. That was honestly what helped me the most, my anticipation.”
Dondonay’s aggressive style paid off at certain points throughout both sets, but she acknowledged after the match that she could have been more precise on her attacking shots.
Golden Valley head coach Josh Stimac said those same attacking shots were spot on during the previous rounds of the tournament, but when it gets down to the top players in the state, anyone can win on any given day.
“If you’re an attacking player, if your strokes are just a little bit off that opens the door and Casie has the ability to move incredibly well,” Stimac said. “Justine did a great job. Any other given day it’s a match that’s winnable and she knew it too. She takes wins and losses in stride, with humility. She’s got a positive attitude.”
Several games featured multiple deuces with the semifinalists going point-for-point. The final score didn’t account for the long rallies, with each player moving from sideline to sideline and several feet beyond the baseline.
In the end, Wooten was able to deflect Dondonay’s array of power shots to secure the victory.
“It’s really difficult playing her. She’s a really great player,” Wooten said. “You have to focus and play the ball, not who is on the other side of the court.”
“I was trying to fight for every point. She was just the better player today,” Dondonay said. “I think I tried my best to play my own game.”
With the season officially over, Stimac reflected on how Dondonay progressed through the year, fighting through different ailments to still get on the courts and compete every day.
He knew when she joined Golden Valley he was getting one of the best players in the area.
Still, he couldn’t help but appreciate and admire his No. 1 singles player, not only for her athletic prowess, but for her character, her work ethic and dedication.
“Coming into the season I knew Justine was a top player in Southern California. Seeing her get to the semifinals of this tournament with as many good players as there are here, I’m just absolutely impressed by her,” Stimac said. “Nothing but respect for her. I’m absolutely proud of what she’s accomplished.”