Wilson girls and West Covina’s Alexis Valenzuela finish up a great season in girls tennis

By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
– Meagan Zamilpa and Natalie Johnson had trouble on Thursday celebrating the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 team tennis title that their Wilson High School team won last week. It was also a heartbreaking celebration for Arcadia’s Francis Dean and the doubles team of Nadia Pacheco-Amaro and Elizabeth Lieu. They became the first Apaches to advance out of the sectionals tournament for the first time in more than 20 years.
For eight San Gabriel Valley tennis players, the 2011 high school season came to a screeching halt in the Round of 16 of the CIF-SS individual championships at the Seal Beach Tennis Center on Thursday afternoon.
“I was extremely excited to get to this round,” senior Zamilpa said.
“To be able to make it this far is quite an accomplishment. It’s been a great year and a pleasure to win as a team. I was more excited than anything to be here, too.”
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Johnson and Pacheco-Amaro and Lieu both lost in three sets. Dean, Zamilpa, San Marino’s Sarah Gealer and Larissa Phillips and Vivian Le and West Covina’s Alexis Valenzuela all lost in straight sets.

It really was a memorable season for those who reached Thursday’s Round of 16. Wilson defeated Carpinteria, 14-4, in the team playoffs and Johnson and Zamilpa helped Wilson become one of only two teams to put two individual players in the final rounds.

“Having the two girls in the Round of 16 and the team title, they go hand in hand,” Wilson coach Irving Lai said. “I feel like I didn’t do very much. It was mostly on the backs of Meagan and Natalie.”

Jerry Dohling has been coaching at Arcadia for nearly 20 years, but Thursday was the first time he had players advance this far in the annual tournament, which will crown a singles player and doubles team as champions for the 47th time today.

It was an equally successful season for San Marino’s Gealer and Phillips and Le, who were both first-time Rio Hondo League champions and helped the Titans reach the CIF-SS semifinals in team competition.

West Covina junior Valenzuela was undefeated this season, even beating San Marino’s Dorothy Tang in the sectional finals, until losing to top seed Meagan Manasse of Mira Costa on Thursday. She had reached the Round of 16 last year.

“I thought Alexis played well, but she made some unforced errors she hasn’t made lately,” West Covina coach Mark McConville said. “She has been playing unbelievable tennis. Playing the top seed was the luck of the draw. Or the unluck of the draw.”

Johnson, a senior who lost to San Clemente’s Sophia Bott, 5-3, 2-6, 7-5, took a 5-4 lead in the third set when her left calf began cramping. Bott tied the game and then took a 6-5 lead. On the break, Johnson had her calf taped.

“It hurt me a lot because I move a lot slower and speed is my big advantage in matches,” said Johnson, who was in the Round of 16 last year. “Even though I was up 5-4 you still need four points to win the game and I was never up four points. I never was close to match point.”

Zamilpa, who did not play high school tennis last year, fell to No. 2 seed Desirae Krawczyk of Palm Desert, 6-4, 6-1.

“At the end I lost a few points on my own and it went the other way,” she said. “I was not able to pull it off.”

Pacheco-Amaro, a senior, and Lieu, a junior, got out to a 7-6 (7-4) lead on Peninsula’s Risa Nakagawa and Jasmine Hosseini, but lost the final two games at 6-3 in a match that lasted 2 1/2 hours.

Pacheco-Amaro played five consecutive deuces on the match point before falling when a return of shot trickled over the net.

The Arcadia pair, who won the Pacific League title, played together only three times before Thursday. Pacheco-Amaro played No. 2 singles throughout the regular season.

“We have great chemistry,” Pacheco-Amaro said. “Our style complements each other.”

“We have really improved as a team,” Lieu said.

Dean, a junior, lost to Tesoro’s Mayci Jones, 6-0, 6-4.

“I mis-hit almost every ball in the first set and won only like two points,” she said. “I had no idea what happened. I’ve never played so poorly.”

Gealer, seeded fifth, lost in her third consecutive Round of 16 appearance, 6-2, 6-4 to Millikan’s Cindy Nguyen.

“We all had hopes she could get all the way to the last day, but she’s off to (the University of) Maryland now,” San Marino coach John Christopher said.

Both senior Phillips and sophomore Le said they were not on their game in a 6-1, 8-0 loss to University’s Nassin Radmehe and Danielle Pham.

West Covina’s Valenzuela, who also reached the Round of 16 last year, had the unenviable task of falling to top seed Manasse, 6-0, 6-3.

“She is a really good player,” Valenzuela said. “I could have done better. It was an off day.”

Valenzuela was 78-0 in sets going into the match.

“When you look back at the whole season and say you’ve won 78 sets out of 80, that’s an amazing season,” McConville said.

keith.lair@sgvn.com 626-962-8811, ext. 2242

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