While the final score read 11-7 in Valencia’s favor, the boys tennis match with West Ranch on Tuesday was much closer than those numbers indicated.
The Vikings and Wildcats tied 2-2 in the first four sets of the first round, with the No. 1 and No. 2 singles sets going back and forth for nearly an hour.
Valencia’s No. 1 Gabriel Chavez battled against West Ranch’s No. 1 Charlie Spina, with both players hitting precise shots and pushing each other around the court.
Trailing by a game from the start, Chavez fought back to win 7-5 and gave Valencia a much-needed point, despite dealing with a nagging knee injury and also feeling under the weather.
“When I’m feeling like this I just tell myself to make as many balls as possible and try my best every single point because that’s the only way that I’m going to win,” Chavez said. “If I think about the injury or think about how I’m feeling I’m definitely going to lose, so I just try to think about two things, make balls and complete focus. Don’t focus on anything else except for the match.”
On the court behind them, Valencia’s No. 2 Ian Cho and West Ranch’s No. 2 Alec Robertson were engaged in a battle of their own.
Cho took a 2-1 lead early in the set, then Robertson bounced back and took a 6-5 lead. Cho however, would not be deterred, using a strong serve as well as his speed to move across the court to force a tiebreaker.
Cho won the tie-break 7-0, solidifying the Vikings’ 4-2 lead in the first round and giving them an early advantage in a tightly contested matchup.
“The pressure is there, but I just take full swings. I’m not playing not to lose, I’m playing to win, so I’m trying to go for every shot because if I don’t speed up my racquet it’s going to go long or to the net,” Cho said. “I just have to play with confidence, The pressure is there, but I’m trying to not keep it in my head.”
“He beat Alec in Spring Smash and to come out here and do it again was awesome. Alec is a really good player, I thought it would be a tough match,” Chavez said of Cho. “I’m super happy that he beat him again. That’s a huge advantage for us in the first round to get that win.”
Cho won all three of his sets, defeating West Ranch’s No. 3 Michael Ponto 6-0, then defeating Spina 7-6, (8-6) in another tiebreaker.
Chavez won all three of his sets, losing only one game in his final two sets.
The second round mirrored the first one in scoring, with the Vikings winning 4-2 to give them an 8-4 lead heading into the final round.
One set in particular also had a similar feel to the final two sets of the first round, as Valencia’s No. 1 doubles team of Eduardo Cedeno and Stephen Thay were in a dogfight against West Ranch’s No. 2 doubles team of Sam Vila and Connor Schloemer.
Trailing for the majority of the set, Cedeno and Thay were able to come back to force a tiebreaker, eventually winning the tie-break 7-5 to keep Valencia’s cushion in tact.
“No pressure, we just try to focus on our game, try to get every ball over,” Cedeno said. “We didn’t focus on the score, we don’t like doing that because we get in our head and we’re going to be scared to miss. We just focus on the game point by point.”
“It’s very reassuring to know that when you have two singles player at the baseline, that we can go toe-to-toe with them, that is very important,” Thay said “Also knowing we can close the net when we want to.”
The pair, who also excel when playing singles, have started to gel as a unit as the season has progressed.
West Ranch was able win four of six sets in the final round, but it was too little too late, as Valencia sealed the win when Cedeno and Thay won their last set.
Spina won his second set 6-1 against Valencia’s No. 3 Andre Ezzat and Robertson won his last set as well.
“It could have gone either way. In the end I think it came down to a few matches, but I think what we need to focus on mainly is just being able to stay within ourselves and not letting opponents, whoever we’re playing, not letting anybody else outside of the court get into your head,” West Ranch assistant coach Noah Morrow said. “You have to be able to be mentally tough and mentally focused on the court. That’s the biggest thing.
“I was proud of they way they carried themselves today. After a tough loss they are obviously very disappointed, but at the end of the day if you can hold your head up knowing that you did your best and gave it your all, you can sleep well.”
The atmosphere was lively, as fans of both teams kept their eyes glued to the courts and cheered after every big point.
West Ranch has won the past four Foothill League titles, so Valencia knew it had to win this match if they wanted a shot at dethroning the champions.
The Vikings circled this match on the calendar way before the season started.
“It is a rivalry, everyone’s a little more nervous coming out here,” Chavez said. “I have to admit I was pretty nervous in my first round coming out, but once I got that win I felt settled in. Because we’re playing West Ranch, it makes it a lot harder.”
“We wanted the win. It’s been so long since Valencia won league, so it’s just great we finally won the first part of league,” Cedeno said.
West Ranch will look to rebound on Thursday against Hart at home, while Valencia will host Saugus. Both matches are scheduled for 3 p.m.
Golden Valley 10, Saugus 8
The Grizzlies pulled out a gritty win over the Centurions after going into the last round tied 6-6 on Tuesday. Golden Valley’s No. 2 singles player Logan Detwiler clinched the victory, defeating Saugus’ No. 1 singles player Andrew Belcher 6-3.
No. 1 singles player Dylan Yu won all three of his sets by a score of 6-1 for Golden Valley. The Grizzlies were able to win six of nine sets in doubles and won 75 total games to Saugus’ 70 games.
Golden Valley earned its first league win of the season and will face Canyon at home on Thursday at 3 p.m.
Saugus, who lost to Canyon by games (82-78) in a 9-9 tight matchup last week, will look for its first league win on Thursday, taking on Valencia on the road at 3 p.m.
Hart 17, Canyon 1
The Indians moved to 2-1 in the Foothill League with their win over the Cowboys on Tuesday. Hart won all of its doubles sets and only dropped one set in singles.
Hart’s No. 1 singles player Luke Papayoanou won his first set 6-1 against Canyon’s No. 1 singles player Jessie Lara and was subbed out for Scott Rankin, who also won both of his sets.
Canyon’s lone win came by way of Lara, who defeated Hart’s No. 3 singles player Gabe Totev 6-0.
Hart will face West Ranch on the road and Canyon will travel to Golden Valley for the fourth league match of the season on Thursday. Both matches are slated to start at 3 p.m.