All six Foothill League boys tennis teams gathered at the Paseo Club in Valencia on Monday morning for the annual Foothill League prelims.
The day started with 15 singles players and 16 doubles teams battling on the courts, with the field dwindling to four singles players and four doubles teams by the end of afternoon.
West Ranch’s Charlie Spina, the No. 2 seed, kicked things off with a sweep of Golden Valley’s Santiago Del Rio in the first round.
Spina then defeated teammate Michael Ponto in the same fashion 6-0, 6-0, to reach the semifinals without dropping a single game. Ponto defeated Golden Valley’s Logan Detwiler 6-0, 6-0 in the first match.
“I was feeling good today and throughout the season I’ve been really looking forward to this. It’s always a great event at the end of our season,” Spina said. “I just came out here super excited, super ready and I guess it showed.”
Hart’s Luke Papayoanou wasn’t too far behind Spina, losing just one game total in both of his matches.
Papayoanou defeated Valencia’s Aditya Patki 6-0, 6-1 in the opening round, then swept Canyon’s Jessie Lara in the second round. Lara earned a second-round match by defeating Saugus’ Lawrence Lam in a tiebreaker 4-6, 6-4 (10-8).
“I was feeling really excited for prelims. This is a really good year for me to try to get to CIF,” Papayoanou said. “I was feeling good from the get-go. It’s just really fun, everyone’s here, all the teams are here, and the opportunity to go to CIF.”
Spina and Papayoanou will square off in the semifinals on Tuesday, with the winner advancing to the Foothill League finals and earning a bid to the CIF Southern Section Individual Championships.
The last time Hart and West Ranch met during the season was on April 16, with Spina coming away with the win against Papayoanou 6-1.
“One of the things I’ve been working on a lot this year is confidence in my own game and I’m going to bring it out here tomorrow,” Spina said.
“I have to play really well, I have to get my first serves in and not double fault. Also, my forehand has to be on,” Papayoanou said.
Golden Valley’s Dylan Yu took care of business in the first round, defeating West Ranch’s Ethan Brooks 6-0, 6-1.
Yu went up against Jax Liescheidt of Hart in the second round, who had beaten Canyon’s Humberto Reyes-Reid 6-1, 6-0 in the first match.
Both Yu and Liescheidt were pounding the ball and pushing one another around the court. They showed great endurance and the ability to get to tough shots, as long rallies became a theme of the match.
Yu pulled away 6-3, 6-1 in a match that was closer than the final score showed.
“I played Jax before, I played him a couple times so I was pretty prepared for his big serve,” Yu said. “I was pretty confident that my returns would be on. I was pretty confident going into the match.”
After receiving a first-round bye Valencia’s Ian Cho, the No. 1 seed, defeated Hart’s Tanner Spendlove 6-0, 6-0. Spendlove defeated Saugus’ Matthew Schwartz 6-1, 6-4 earlier to reach the second round.
Cho and Yu, who are friends, will battle in the other singles semifinal matchup. After Yu won his second match, Cho was there to give him a hug and congratulate him.
“Ian is a really good player, he’s more of a baseline player, he’s got big groundstrokes,” Yu said. “Ian’s a good kid, he’s a tough opponent. We’ll see how it goes. We’re pretty tight, we’ll poke fun. I’m excited for the competition.”
In the doubles bracket, Valencia advanced all three of its teams to the semifinals. The No. 1 seed of Eduardo Cedeno and Stephen Thay won both of their matches handily, dropping only a single game all afternoon.
Cedeno and Thay swept Golden Valley’s Eric Kim and Andrew Oh, then defeated another pair from Golden Valley, Devin Patel and Kamyar Ghamghamy 6-1, 6-0. Patel and Ghamghamy defeated Saugus’ Luke Bannerman and Brandon Buenaventura 6-1, 6-4 in the first round.
“We’ve been playing together since the start of the league, we’ve bonded and we know how our game is together, so I think that helped a lot today,” Cedeno said. “I’ve been dreaming about going to CIF Individuals since my freshman year, so doing it my senior year would be amazing. (Thay) has been my best friend since I can remember, so it’s great playing with your best friend and going to finals together. It’s a dream come true.”
The duo will face off against familiar opponents on Tuesday, not because they played against each other during the season, but did so every day in practice.
Valencia’s Jason Tumbokon and Matt Young were able to come away with a victory in their first match, sweeping Canyon’s Anton Katona and Max Shochet. They defeated West Ranch’s Connor Schloemer and Brandon Jun in hard-fought second match that went to a tie-break set, 6-4, 3-6 (10-7) Schloemer and Jun won their first match 6-4, 6-4 against Hart’s Spencer Kline and Sam Fossa.
Tumbokon and Young’s second-round win earned them a matchup against Cedeno and Thay.
“It’s always fun playing your teammates. On the court we’re not friends, but outside we’re joking around,” Cedeno said with a smile. “We know we’ve got to pretend they are not our friends tomorrow.”
The other semifinal doubles match will involve the third Valencia team consisting of Ellis Bosarge and Brent Lim.
Bosarge and Lim opened the tournament with a 6-3, 6-0 win against Chad Tarr and Jacob Jun of West Ranch. They then defeated Canyon’s Aidan Kutcher and Reese Johnson 6-1, 7-5 in the second round. Kutcher and Johnson defeated Saugus’ Aidan Graham and Connor Loo 7-5, 2-6 (10-8) in their first round matchup.
Bosarge and Lim will square off against the lone non-Valencia team left in doubles, Alec Robertson and Sam Vila of West Ranch.
Robertson and Vila defeated Justyn Friedler and Scott Rankin of Hart in the first round 6-2, 6-4. They went on to beat another Hart pair, Jeremy Killian and Jack Burns 6-2, 6-1 in the second round. Killian and Burns had advanced after defeating Javi Gonzalez and Chris Guerra of Golden Valley 6-2, 6-0.
The pair only recently started playing together, as Robertson served as the No. 2 singles player for most of the season and Vila dabbled with singles and also played with other partners.
However, the two seemed to come together flawlessly on Monday.
“We’ve had a little bit of practice together, but not too much, so it feels really good to get this win under our belt and go into next round,” Vila said. “It’s a big difference from singles to doubles, but when we come together like that we got to work off of each other and read each other’s body language well. It’s a different game, but at the same time it’s a lot similar, so we can bounce off each other and turn that singles game into doubles.”
As for being the only remaining doubles team that doesn’t sport a Valencia shirt, Vila said as long as he and Robertson can keep their focus, they have a good chance of reaching the finals and coming out victorious.
“Tomorrow we’ve got to come in with a clear head and just play our game. We know what we bring to the table and we know we can win. We can’t let the surroundings get to us,” he said. “There’s a lot of Valencia support, but if we play our game and stay focused I think we can come out with some ‘dubs.’”
The two finalists in singles competition as well as doubles will advance to the CIF-SS Individual Championships on May 16.
The prelims will conclude on Tuesday at Paseo Club, with the first matches scheduled to start at 11 a.m.