GLENDALE – A long and historic playoff run has merited the Glendale High girls’ tennis team a distinction that no other unit has ever had.
The Nitros became their school’s first girls’ squad in any sport to reach a CIF Southern Section championship game, match or final by virtue of defeating third-seeded Hemet, 12-6, at Wednesday afternoon’s Division IV semifinal in the Jewel City.
A victory decades in the making vaults No. 2 seed Glendale (16-6) into Friday’s Division IV championship match at the Claremont Club at 1 p.m.
The Nitros will take on fourth-seeded De Anza League champion Rancho Mirage (22-0-1), which upset No. 1 Elsinore, 11-7, in the bracket’s other semifinal Wednesday.
Glendale tennis surpassed two other close championship game calls in girls’ athletics when the basketball and water polo teams faltered in the semifinals in February and in 2007, respectively.
“I had a practice on a Friday in May and my friend Michelle [Yolyan] wanted to know what I was doing having a practice in May,” Glendale first-year coach Tom Gossard said of his one of his doubles players. “She said, ‘I have a life to live.’
“That’s where we started and that’s where we’ve come from. They didn’t want to practice back then, but they turned around, changed their attitudes and worked hard. They got here because of their work. I really don’t know what else to say.”
Pacific League fourth-place finisher Glendale punched its ticket to Claremont because of its balance, as the team finished an identical 6-3 in singles and doubles play.
There was some tension Wednesday as Mountain Pass League champion Hemet (20-2) won three of four sets and pulled within, 7-5, after two rounds of play.
Just when it seemed like the Nitros were on the ropes, they responded with a dominant 5-1 run in the final round for an impressive 12-6 victory.
“I think we all walked in with confidence, not with doubt,” Yolyan said. “I think doubt clouds your judgment. We have such an amazing coach who led us to the victory.”
Singles player Celine Khachiki continued her strong play with a 3-0 run to improve to 8-0 over her last three postseason matches.
Khachiki picked up a 6-0 victory over Hemet’s No. 1 Jaden Peel, while also posting triumphs of 6-4 and 6-1.
Kristen Lee finished 2-1 for Glendale with 6-2 and 6-1 wins, while Ani Azarian added a 6-1 victory.
In doubles action, Momo and Emi Guzman posted victories of 6-0 and 6-3, while Yolyan and Nicole Avakian also finished 2-1 with tight wins of 7-5 and 7-6 (7-3).
The duo of Elen Ghazaryan and Moira Mailed also got into the act with triumphs of 6-4 and 6-1.
“At first, I was really nervous out there,” Ghazaryan said. “Once I got a couple of shots in, I realized, we can do this. As long as we keep our head in the game, we’ll win.”
Glendale is one of two local teams to advance to the championships, joining fellow Glendale Unified squad Crescenta Valley (Division III). Crescenta Valley will be making the program’s first appearance, as well. It advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 2003, when Gossard was the Falcons’ head coach.