Until lunchtime today, Janel Rodriguez and Zeanah Ibrahim were JV girls tennis players for Golden Valley. But when lunch period came, Grizzlies coach Josh Stimac informed them that they’d be starting for the varsity team against Canyon later that day.
The pair was stunned and a little nervous, but Stimac had faith in them, and deservedly so, as Rodriguez and Ibrahim helped Golden Valley to a 13-5 home win by sweeping their opponents 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 on Tuesday afternoon.
“I thought it was very fun,” Rodriguez said. “It was a different atmosphere compared to JV, but we did well and I’m happy about that.”
A handful of Golden Valley players were nursing ankle injuries, forcing Stimac to pull from his JV squad. Rodriguez and Ibrahim had already been practicing against varsity players and had shown success in JV matches, so it was a natural decision to call on them.
“Both of them play within themselves,” Stimac said. “They’re not going to come out here and try and be flashy; they’re going to keep playing the same type of tennis that they played at the JV level.
“They’re good athletes and the thing that really sets them apart is they run stuff down. They really are willing to run a lot of balls down.”
The Grizzlies doubles teams as a group were responsible for eight wins in the contest against Canyon. Roselyn Uy played with Ashley Yoon and competed as a pair for the first time on Tuesday, since injuries had taken out their usual partners.
Uy and Yoon were able to adapt and win 6-0, 6-2, 6-0. They lost the first two games of the day, then went on to win the next 18 straight.
“They’re adaptable and I don’t like to say that they’re interchangeable because they do play better with their partners, but they stepped up and they played well with a little bit of adversity today,” Stimac said.
Rounding out the double wins were Kennedi Willians and Evelyn Kong, who won two sets 6-2 and 6-1, but dropped one 0-6.
Amber Kashay was the top contributor for the Cowboys, winning three sets 6-3, 6-1, 6-0.
Kashay said she owes her success this season to the strides she has made in her mental game as a player, overcoming anxiety and negative thoughts during games.
“Tennis is about skills and about hard work but it’s also about your perspective and if you have a bad day and you’re just not in the right mind, you won’t do well in your matches and for me, my lifelong struggle has been anxiety and the pressure,” Kashay said. “You’ve just got to really just believe in yourself and tell yourself that.”
Although neither were able to beat Kashay, Golden Valley singles players Ashley Azarraga and Jordan Gondey managed to pick up to wins apiece. Azarraga won 7-5, 6-0 and Gondey won 6-1, 6-1.
Golden Valley and Canyon both resume play on Thursday, with the Grizzlies traveling to Saugus and the Cowboys hosting Hart. Matches begin at 3 p.m.