Foothill League tennis concluded in dramatic fashion on Thursday at the Paseo Club.
West Ranch senior Audrey Park became the league’s singles champion after a three-hour match with Golden Valley’s Charly Saltz.
Park won the match, 4-6, 7-6, 10-4, and came back after trailing 5-1 in the second set. Saltz had a lot on her plate, battling cramping and a reaggravated hamstring injury on top of dueling with Park in Paseo’s coliseum court.
The two battled in the long match as nearly every point was a rally, with backhands, short hops and tough shots down the line from Park.
“My three-hour match was definitely a rollercoaster of emotions,” Park said. “I was feeling some pressure in the beginning, which made it hard to play loose and as aggressive as I usually do. I was down pretty much the whole game and so it was definitely a mental battle to stay in the match and not give up. I think the key turning point in the middle of the second set was how I started to realize some of the patterns of Charly’s game and was able to just calm down and focus on taking it one point at a time instead of overwhelming myself with the thought of coming back.”
Valencia seniors Balyee Renfro and Skylar Brathwaite became the league’s doubles champions after defeating the second-seeded Saugus Centurion duo Madison Vianzon and Kelsie Lammens-Ross, 6-1, 6-1.
Renfro and Brathwaite had only played one match together in doubles this season, but with solid play and strong communication, the two were able to win the title match. Vikings coach Darrell Peries anticipated the two being spectacular together.
“I was actually thinking about it from the very beginning of the season,” Peries said on combining the two at league finals. “I knew what they might’ve gone up against in the singles draw and although they were very capable of competing for the singles title, I felt that their chances were much stronger in the doubles bracket, especially together. They have a close friendship and I felt the chemistry between them as a doubles pairing would come naturally on the tennis court. When I first brought up the idea to them, they were a bit apprehensive, as they were very eager to compete in the singles bracket, but after a bit of persuading, they were excited to play together.”
Brathwaite will enter the postseason as Valencia’s top singles player but concludes her Foothill League tennis career as a two-time doubles champion and a singles runner-up in 2022.
Lammens-Ross and Vianzon were lights-out through the two-day tournament but again ran into a marathon match in the semifinals.
The Centurion duo fell in the 2022 league semis after a heartbreaking loss to Valencia in a more than two-hour match. This year, Saugus’ top pair was able to win the match but were pushed just as hard against Hart’s Em Porter and Mia Rodriguez. After dropping the first set 6-0, the Indian duo blasted back into the game. Porter and Rodriguez were positioned well and forced Saugus into tough looks to force a third set. The Centurions regrouped and played some of their best tennis to win the final set, 7-5.
Porter and Rodriguez finished off the finals in third place after defeating West Ranch’s Suprita Yeole and Stephanie Douille, 6-4, 6-2.
Back in singles, one of the surprises of the day was Golden Valley junior Janice Jin reaching the semifinals.
Jin tore through her opening match with Castaic’s Christine Lee before posting an improbable comeback against Saugus senior Frankie Spandoni. The Centurion took the first set, 6-1, before Jin floored it back into the match, winning the second set, 6-3. The two needed a tiebreaker to decide a victor for the second time this season, and Jin was able to pull of a 13-11 victory.
Grizzlies head coach Josh Stimac saw his No. 2 singles player take a huge jump in her junior season.
“Janice has been impressive all year,” Stimac wrote in an email. “In the off-season, she put in a lot of time with her private coach, Steve Yu, and she came back with excellent footwork, more topspin on her groundstrokes, and a much better serve than she had during her sophomore season. All of this came together at the tournament.”
Jin would fall to Park in the semis but two Golden Valley Grizzlies reaching that far in the tournament was something the coaches hadn’t seen in some time.
Hart’s Sofia Ganshirt fell in the other singles semifinals match to Saltz but was able to bounce back for a bronze medal and defeated Jin, 6-4, 6-2, in the consolation match. The two juniors will likely meet again somewhere in the tournament in 2024.
Park and Saltz both have tennis careers ahead of them as well as a ton of mutual respect for one another.
“I definitely think my previous tournament experience helped me a lot in making split-second decisions in those crucial points that ultimately allowed me to win the second set and the match,” Park said. “It was my only set dropped this season, and I have so much respect towards Charly because she’s definitely a tough competitor. I’m glad that the final was a match both of us can learn from and walk away as better players.”
West Ranch coach Jackie Lange saw her senior battle physically and mentally.
“Audrey had to shift some gears in the finals, especially,” Lange wrote in an email. “She had to change her mindset in order to trust herself and build confidence.”
Park posted 6-0, 6-0 wins and now becomes the first West Ranch singles champion since Jordyn McBride, and the first girls singles champ for Lange.
“It feels really amazing and rewarding to achieve something that is a great representation of the practice and time I’ve put towards the sport over the years,” Park said. “I’m super grateful to have had such a good ending to my high school singles tennis season. The only other year I played high school tennis was during COVID, so we weren’t able to have a prelims tournament. So, being able to win my first and last one is definitely something special.”
Park has been a huge addition to West Ranch since transferring this summer.
“The West Ranch team is a blessing to be a part of,” Park said. “They’re all so welcoming and hardworking and it’s always inspiring to see what we can accomplish when we put the work in and come together. We all just wanted this season to play our best tennis and have fun, which we definitely accomplished. Even though I was only a part of the team for a season, the team environment was so welcoming and we all were able to have a memorable season.”
Valencia, West Ranch, Saugus and Hart will now enter team playoffs on Wednesday while Saltz and select players will later head into individual playoffs.
For Stimac, Saltz has left her mark on Golden Valley tennis.
“At Golden Valley, Charly is leaving a twofold legacy,” Stimac said. “First, she shows the other players on the team that success in tennis comes on the heels of a lot of hard work and a lot of time on court. Secondly, she plays with passion and focus. I think that the other girls on the team see her fight and that inspires them to want to be better.”
The Vikings will be the only home team on Wednesday as Valencia hosts Campbell Hall in the opening round of the Division 1 playoffs. Hart heads to Santa Barbara, while West Ranch travels to Rancho Cucamonga in the Division 2 opening round. Lastly, Saugus will be on the road against Cerritos in the Division 3 bracket.
“Looking ahead to CIFs, I’m just excited to put my best foot forward and continue to try to play my best tennis,” Park said. “I’m certain the event will be a great learning experience for me and I can’t wait to be able to see some of the other great talents in the Southern California region.”