Girls Tennis All-Area: CIF champion Wilson take top honors, Natalie Johnson player of the year; Irving Lai coach of the year

By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
Wilson High School dominated the 2011 girls high school tennis season, beating Carpinetria 14-4 in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 title match at the Claremont Club, giving the Wildcats their first girls tennis title in school history.

Wilson High’s super singles player Natalie Johnson said it was the perfect way to end her senior year by raising a trophy with her teammates.

Johnson, who won the Valle Vista League singles title and advanced to the CIF-Southern Section’s prestigious Round of 16, was named the San Gabriel Valley Tribune girls tennis player of the year for the second time.

Johnson also was named the player of the year as a freshman at South Hills before later transferring to Wilson.

“It’s a blessing to have been selected tennis player of the year, but I know I would not have been selected if my team had not won the CIF championship,” Johnson said. “I’d like to thank my teammates and coaches for being positive and supportive.”

Johnson is a well-known player in the Southern California tennis circuit. She was the No. 1-ranked player in Southern California in her age group when she was 10, and won the Southern California age-group sectionals in 2004.

Johnson continues to play in national tournaments and is still deciding which college to attend. (To continue reading, click thread)

Player of the year: Natalie Johnson, Wilson, Sr.*
Coach of the year: Irving Lai, Wilson
First Team Singles
Alexis Valenzuela, West Covina
Meagan Zamilpa, Wilson
Andrea Madrigal, South Hills
First-Team Doubles
Megumi Kikuchi and Kaori Oishi, Wilson

Second Team Singles
Amanda Herrera, Gladstone
Yuka King, Arroyo
Cindy Lia, Claremont
Second Team Doubles
Drew Spinosa and Megan Huang, Claremont

“As far as college, I have offers but I would like to stay local,” Johnson said. “My main goal is to play pro. This summer I’m going to try to compete in some professional tournaments and if I do well, I’ll be more aggressive in pursuing a professional tennis career.”

Wilson coach Irving Lai has been selected the coach of the year after leading the Wildcats to the Valle Vista League and CIF titles, finishing the season with a 21-1 record.

“I definitely knew winning a (CIF) title was a possibility,” Lai said. “It was great to see the girls win it and it was inspirational. You don’t win a team championship with one or two players, you need everyone pulling their weight and we came together in all the clutch moments, that’s how you get it done.”

Johnson’s road to the Valle Vista singles title came against teammate Meagan Zamilpa, also named to the Tribune first team.

Despite 20 unforced errors in the Valle Vista League singles final, Johnson beat Zamilpa 6-3, 6-4.

“My serve was the main reason I was able to overcome so many mistakes,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Zamilpa were both undefeated when they met in the league finals and both reached the CIF-SS Round of 16 and swept their singles matches in the championship against Carpinteria that helped the Wildcats raise their first trophy.

Johnson reached the Round of 16 with a gutsy performance in the prelims, rallying from a set down to advance with a 1-6, 6-0, 10-6 win in the third set to defeat Troy High’s Camille DeLeon.

Johnson suffered a tough loss in the Round of 16, falling in the third set to San Clemente’s Sophia Bott, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5.

Zamilpa advanced to the Round of 16 with a 7-6, 6-3 win over Paula Chou of Aliso Niguel. Zamilpa lost to Palm Desert’s Desirae Krawczyke in the Round of 16 (6-4, 6-1). That was nothing for Zamilpa to feel bad about, as Krawczyke advanced to the finals.

Also on the Tribune first-team singles were South Hills senior Andrea Madrigal and West Covina junior Alexis Valenzuela.

Valenzuela was the tennis player of the year last year and had another big season. She won the Hacienda League singles title and advanced to the Round of 16 as well, losing to eventual champion Maegan Manasse of Mira Costa, 6-0, 6-3.

Madrigal, the Sierra League singles champion, could have advanced to the Round of 16 too, but had a tough draw, losing to Wilson’s Zamilpa in the regional tournament.

Wilson’s Megumi Kikuchi and Kaori Oishi were named the area doubles team of the year. The duo won the Valle Vista League title, swept their matches in the CIF team championship and advanced to the CIF-SS doubles sections, finishing 59-4.

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