The Valencia boys tennis team was determined to capture a Foothill League title this year, and with the help of senior captain Ian Cho, the Vikings accomplished that feat with an undefeated 10-0 league record.
Cho, a four-year varsity player, finished the season 40-7 overall and 27-2 in league, capping off a dominant senior year and earning the 2019 All-SCV boys tennis Player of the Year.
“I couldn’t be more proud, these guys work so hard and have worked so hard. It has nothing to do with me, it’s them,” said Valencia head coach Jen Azevedo. “The freshman Ian who came in and recognized that this is a program that worked hard and put in the time and put in the energy and for him to really push through that and believe it for four years, to do it this year that speaks volumes.”
Cho entered the Foothill League prelims as the No. 1 seed and earned a bye in the first round before taking on Tanner Spendlove of Hart in the second round. He defeated Spendlove 6-0, 6-0, earning a trip to the league semifinals the following day.
In the semis, he battled against his friend Dylan Yu of Golden Valley.
“Ian is a really good player, he’s more of a baseline player, he’s got big groundstrokes,” Yu said before his semifinal match against Cho. “Ian is a good kid, a tough opponent, we’ll see how it goes. We’re pretty tight. We’ll poke plenty of fun and I’m excited for the competition.”
The competition was fierce between the two friends, with Cho using his powerful strokes to move Yu around the court. Yu responded by returning tough shots and serves, but couldn’t outlast Cho, as the Valencia senior won 6-4, 6-2.
In the finals against Hart’s Luke Papayoanou, Cho won the first set 7-5 in a back and forth battle, but suffered a bad cramp in the start of the second set that forced him to call a medical timeout and required assistance from his coaches.
Dealing with severe pain that handicapped his speed, Cho lost the second set 2-6 but was determined to grind out a win despite the injury. He defeated Papayoanou 13-11 in a super tiebreaker and limped off the court with the help of his teammates.
“I’m pretty proud of myself that I pulled through,” Cho said after winning the Foothill League finals. “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.”
Cho earned a trip to the CIF-Southern Section Individual Championships for the first time in his career, but lost in the second round.
One of the most impressive aspects of Cho’s season was his ability to compartmentalize each point, and not let a bad point or unforced error slow him down.
Even in the most high-pressure situations against some of the league’s best, Cho stuck to his game plan and came away victorious more often than not.
“The pressure is there, I just take full swings. I’m not playing not to lose, I’m playing to win. 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 after going 3-0 in a Valencia win over West Ranch early in the season. “I just have to play with confidence. The pressure is there but I’m trying not to keep it in my head.”
First Team All-SCV
Gabriel Chavez, Valencia, sophomore
Valencia’s No. 1 singles player was a blistering 39-6 overall and 19-1 in the Foothill League this season, helping lead the Vikings to a league crown and undefeated record. Chavez used his impeccable well-rounded style to beat his opponents in a number of different ways. He showcased a sound defensive game as well as the ability to charge the net and score points with nifty drop shots. His serve was often on point and will only get stronger and he gets older. His grittiness was often on display as the sophomore played through numerous injuries throughout the season, including in the team playoffs. Chavez defeated his teammate Cho to win the Spring Smash Tournament.
Charlie Spina, West Ranch, senior
With the graduation of West Ranch powerhouses Parker McBride and Davey Woodland, it was up to Spina to lead the charge for the Wildcats this season. He did just that, helping guide the team to a second-place finish in the Foothill League as its No. 1 singles player. Spina’s calm and collected manner was merely a ruse, as he dominated his opponents with an aggressive all-around game. Spina finished fourth in the Foothill League finals after facing Hart’s Luke Papayoanou in the semis. Battling dehydration, he didn’t forfeit the match but instead went the distance, falling in a super tiebreaker.
Luke Papayoanou, Hart, sophomore
The young leader of Hart’s singles players, Papayoanou got stronger and more confident as the season progressed, helping lead his team to a playoff berth. His high-endurance level and ability to return tough shots gave him a chance to win every match he played. In the Foothill League semifinals, Papayoanou defeated Spina in a super tiebreaker set to move onto the finals against Cho. Papayoanou held a 9-8 lead in the tiebreaker against Cho, but eventually fell 13-11 in the final set. His second-place finish earned him a spot in the CIF-SS Individual Championships, the first time a Hart player has made the tournament in over a decade. Papayoanou lost in the second round of the tournament.
Dylan Yu, Golden Valley, senior
The Grizzlies’ No. 1 singles player, Yu was a force in the Foothill League and helped carry the load for his team. His footwork was flawless, giving him the capacity to return even the hardest hit balls and fly from one end of the court to the other. Yu often showcased his solid backhand as well as a powerful serve that gave opponents fits, and also exhibited his ability to return tough serves. In the Foothill League finals, Yu battled the eventual winner Cho in the semis, finishing in third place.
Canyon — Jessie Lara, senior
Golden Valley — Logan Detwiler, sophomore
Hart — Jax Liescheidt, sophomore
Saugus — Lawrence Lam, junior
Valencia — Aditya Patki, freshman
West Ranch — Alec Robertson, senior