by Aram Tolegian, staff writer
West Covina High School girls tennis standout Alexis Valenzuela is not what you would consider to be classically trained.
The just-turned 17-year-old didn’t grow up on country club courts. Nor did she have a family who could afford the very best private coaches.
Yet when the top 16 players in the CIF-Southern Section meet today at the Seal Beach Tennis Club to start deciding who’s the No. 1 player in the section, Valenzuela will be among them … for the third consecutive year.
Not bad for a kid who learned the game by starting in a Covina Parks and Recreation tennis camp and honed her skills by playing on local high school courts or at the public park.
Sure, Valenzuela has had her share of private coaching … in Lakewood. But generally, the top players in the Southern Section don’t come from places like West Covina.
“After my parents put me into it, I fell in love with it,” Valenzuela said of tennis. “I do love playing basketball. I did play for the high school, but I just realized that tennis is where I needed to be.”
Valenzuela started playing at age 7 after she first tried baseball and didn’t like it. By the time she was 10, she was ranked in the Southern California top 10 for her age group.
Realizing she was on to something big, Valenzuela’s family got her a private coach and her father Ernie did his own bit of coaching. Once at West Covina, she has been under the tutelage of Bulldogs coach Mike McConville, who is adamant that Valenzuela is the best girls athlete in school history.
It’s an upbringing that has certainly been good enough to get Valenzuela to this point of her career, but it’s not quite to the level of what most of the other top 16 girls enjoyed on their way up.
“They can afford the top coaches, we can’t really afford the top coaches,” Valenzuela said.
West Covina is not known for its tennis. It’s a football school and every other sport comes second. Valenzuela has done her best to change that, however.
She’s won the league title and been named league MVP all four years. Valenzuela didn’t lose a league match in her final three seasons.
“It was my goal since freshman year to try and throw a four-peat as league champ and MVP,” Valenzuela said. “It’s (tennis) not that popular at West Covina because they’ve never been known for tennis. They’ve been known for football and not tennis. It’s a new thing for them.”
Valenzuela has already secured a scholarship to Cal State Fullerton, where she plans to attend nursing school and become a nurse practitioner. There could be a bid at a professional career mixed in if things break right.
For now, though, her focus is on ending her storied high school career with a bang.
That means surviving today’s matches and returning on Thursday when the field of 16 is reduced to four and a battle to be the top player in the Southern Section will begin in earnest.
“I know what to expect,” Valenzuela said. “But each year, there’s different girls. I still don’t know who I am going to play. I can’t be overconfident. I need to play my game, whoever I play.”