When the dust settled on Tuesday afternoon at the Paseo Club in Valencia, new Foothill League boys tennis champions were crowned for singles and doubles competition.
Battling the heat, wind and a bout of cramping, Valencia senior Ian Cho captured the singles title, defeating Hart sophomore Luke Papayoanou in a match that went to a super tiebreaker: 7-5, 2-6, (13-11).
Early in the second set, Cho froze up after going for a tough shot, experiencing sharp pain in his legs, and slowly made his way to the sideline table.
Coaches rushed to his side to make sure he was okay and able to continue, and after stretching for a few minutes during a medical timeout, he was back on the court battling.
Papayoanou took advantage of Cho’s impairment and was able to capture the second set to force the super tiebreaker.
Cho took an 8-4 lead and seemed poised to pull away in the final set, but Papayoanou displayed his grit to win five straight points and make the score 9-8 in his favor. It went back and forth from there, with Papayoanou nabbing an 11-10 lead. Cho returned some tough shots and won three straight points to capture the win and the Foothill League singles title.
“I’m pretty proud of myself that I pulled through,” said Cho, who had to be helped off the court by his teammates after the match. “This is my last year and I’m going to give it all I got, and this is the best way I could ever do it.”
“It was fun, we split sets in the regular season,” Papayoanou said. “He started cramping but still pulled through. I don’t know how, he’s just great.”
To get to the finals match, Cho first had to get through Golden Valley’s Dylan Yu. Cho used a strong serve and serve return to set the tone early in the match. While Yu was able to return some of Cho’s masterful strokes and fly around the court after every ball, he couldn’t get past him. Cho won the match 6-4, 6-2.
Papayoanou’s path to the finals was quite different, as he fell behind early against West Ranch’s Charlie Spina in the semifinals. Losing the first set 3-6, Papayoanou stayed determined and fought back to win the second set 7-5.
Though not as pronounced as Cho’s injury, Spina was clearly dealing with something, as he too had to call a medical timeout midway through the second set.
In the super tiebreaker, Papayoanou fell behind 4-2, but regained the lead and defeated Spina 10-8 in a match that took nearly two hours, earning a spot in the finals and a ticket to the CIF-Southern Section Individual Championships.
“The emotions just watching him, I’m so proud of the effort he put in today. He grew up so much in just two days,” Hart head coach Allan Hardbarger said. “I also feel for him, we all know what it’s like to get really close and not finish what we started, but one day he’s going to take a step back and realize what he accomplished today and become a better player for it.”
There was a large contingent of supporters for both finalists, as players from Valencia and Hart cheered on their teammates.
With Papayoanou’s second-place finish, Hart will have a representative in the boys CIF-SS Individual Championships for the first time in over a decade.
“We’re so excited, the Hart family. We’re so proud of him. We haven’t had a player go into CIF Individuals I don’t think since maybe 2006, maybe 2005,” Hardbarger said. “We’re all here for him. All these guys have a lot of classes and homework, but they all came down here as quickly as they could to cheer him on. It just shows the commitment this team has for each other.”
Cho will be making his first trip to the CIF-SS Individual Championships.
He’s excited to represent the Foothill League alongside Papayoanou, who he believes will be a force to be reckoned with in league for years to come.
“I’m a senior so I’ll be gone, but he has a great future ahead of him. You saw him play those awesome points, he’s so determined. He never gives up. I’m hoping for a bright future for him and it’ll happen,” Cho said of Papayoanou. “I have some tournament background experience. I’ve never been to CIF Individuals, so I’m looking forward to it, should be fun.”
The Vikings also crowned another champion in doubles, as senior Eduardo Cedeno and junior Stephen Thay displayed a level of cohesiveness that was unmatched not only during prelims and finals, but throughout the league season.
Cedeno and Thay first defeated teammates Jason Tumbokon and Matt Young 6-2, 6-0 to earn a spot in the finals against the West Ranch pair of Alec Robertson and Sam Vila. The Wildcats duo reached the finals after defeating another Valencia doubles team, Ellis Bosarge and Brent Lim in a super tiebreak 6-1, 5-7 (10-4).
The Valencia duo took an early lead against the West Ranch pair and never looked back, grabbing the doubles title with a 6-3, 6-4 win.
“I’m really proud. Eddy and I have been best friends for a really long time. It’s really great for me to be able to play with him and take the win,” Thay said. “We’ve been succeeding during the season, which led up to this win. A lot of practice, but it’s a very satisfying win, we got the outcome we wanted.”
While Thay has been to the CIF-SS Individual Championships twice before, it will be the first trip for Cedeno.
The junior was thrilled he could help his partner reach the tournament for the first time, and believes they can make some noise in the postseason as long as they continue to play like they have been all season.
“It’s really amazing. In the end, I’m really proud of us and how we did today,” Thay said. “We still have some more things to work on communication-wise, but all the shots are there, it’s just piecing them together to get the right points at the right time.”
Robertson and Vila’s second-place finish also earned them a spot in the CIF-SS Individual Championships.
Bosarge and Lim took home third-place honors after defeating Tumbokon and Young in the consolation match 5-7, 6-2 (10-4).
Yu finished in third place in singles, as Spina was forced to forfeit the consolation match due to the injury he sustained in his first match.
The CIF-SS Individual Championships will begin on May 16, with the location and time still to be announced.