Fountain Valley High senior Justin Pham can only smile when asked how popular tennis is with his fellow students.
"No one cares about tennis at our school. No one," he said. "If anything, you get made fun of for [playing] it. That's always how it's been. When we were ASB Game of the Week [against Edison], literally like two people who weren't on the girls' tennis team came out."
People like rooting for winners. Until this year, the Barons hadn't done much of that, despite the best efforts of eighth-year head coach Harshul Patel.
Fountain Valley had won just one Sunset League title since 1991, sharing the crown in 2014 with Los Alamitos. Other than that, the Barons routinely finished behind the Griffins or Newport Harbor.
Pham and his doubles partner, senior Tommy Trinh, helped change that this season. They helped Fountain Valley go 10-0 in league. Pham and Trinh were also perfect in league for the Barons, finishing 25-0.
No team in league could hang with Fountain Valley, which finished in third place last year. Patel said every league match, except for the two against defending champion Los Alamitos, was clinched by the end of the second round. Even the wins over the second-place Griffins were convincing, 13-5 at home on April 17 and 11-7 on the road three days later.
Pham and Trinh played a big role, as they have throughout this breakout season for Fountain Valley (15-3), which is ranked No. 4 in CIF Southern Section Division 2.
Trinh and Pham went 36-1 during the regular season. Their only loss together came in a nonleague match against Beckman. Patel said every time this season the Barons needed a sweep at No. 1 doubles, Trinh and Pham delivered.
"They're awesome leaders," Patel said. "They're amazing with the team. We are blessed to have the chemistry we have with this team. It's very hard to convince seniors to play doubles together, because they all love playing singles."
Coming into this season, Pham hadn't played much doubles at all. He was a two-time Golden West League singles champion at Westminster High before transferring to Fountain Valley as a junior. But he has had success with Trinh, a three-year starter in doubles. Patel first paired them when they earned an impressive sweep at San Clemente, and they stayed together after that.
Playing doubles was fine with Pham.
"We have solid singles players," he said. "As a team as a whole, it's better for them to play singles, because they can grow more in singles. They're a freshman [Ben Nguyen], junior [Justin Nguyen] and a sophomore [Ryan Trinh — no relation to Tommy], so practicing singles is good for them. Coach wanted Ben … to improve. He's building up Ben for the next four years."
Unlike some doubles pairings, Pham and Trinh said they don't consider themselves net specialists or baseline specialists. They both have an all-around game.
"We're just normal players," Pham said. "We just try not to miss."
Trinh, in his fourth year on varsity, has improved a lot since he became a doubles starter in 2016. He played with then-senior Andrew Nguyen that year.
"He was way better than me," Trinh said. "I didn't do much the whole year. Everyone knew that he carried me."
Depth has also helped carry the Barons this season. Pham and Trinh's second loss of the season came Thursday, at the hands of their teammates. The top-seeded team in the Sunset League tournament, Pham and Trinh were upset by the Barons' Erik Tadros and Ben Nguyen, 6-4, 4-6, 10-8, in the league doubles semifinals.
The loss was tough for Pham and Trinh, but now they can turn their attention to the team playoffs. Fountain Valley will find out its first-round opponent when the Division 2 brackets are released Monday.
Patel said he's never had a team make the semifinals. Fountain Valley's boys lost in the quarterfinals in 2013 and '14, as well as last year in Division 2 to eventual finalist Yorba Linda.
"I'm just happy knowing that we did the best we could for the team," Trinh said. "We're doing everything we can. We want to end our senior year well … We're planning on beating [last year's quarterfinals run]. We're going for a [CIF championship] ring. We have a really good chance."
A deep CIF run could bring more interest to the boys' tennis program at Fountain Valley.
It couldn't hurt, right?
"It would be nice to have an audience sometimes," Trinh said. "Hopefully it will change in CIF. Winning league is not enough to get people to come, but hopefully they will if we get far in CIF."
Born: Oct. 26, 2000
Hometown: Costa Mesa
Height: 5 feet 10
Weight: 170 pounds
Coach: Harshul Patel
Favorite food: Ramen
Favorite movie: "Rocky IV"
Favorite athletic moment: Winning the Michael Chang Classic tournament last summer.
Week in review: Trinh and partner Justin Pham won twice before being subbed out of Fountain Valley's 18-0 win over Edison on April 24, finishing an undefeated league season as a doubles team and helping the Barons clinch their first outright Sunset League title since 1991.
Born: March 30, 2000
Hometown: Marco Island, Fla.
Height: 5 feet 8
Weight: 160 pounds
Coach: Harshul Patel
Favorite food: Rice
Favorite movie: "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie"
Favorite athletic moment: Winning a United States Tennis Assn. satellite tournament in Lakewood two years ago.
Week in review: Pham and partner Tommy Trinh won twice before being subbed out of Fountain Valley's 18-0 win over Edison on April 24, finishing an undefeated league season as a doubles team and helping the Barons clinch their first outright Sunset League title since 1991.