Hard work fuels Glendale High girls' tennis, Rancho Mirage into finals showdown

Preparation appears to be the common thread that unites the Glendale High and Rancho Mirage girls’ tennis teams as they clash in Friday’s CIF Southern Section Division IV championship match at 1 p.m. at the Claremont Club.

Glendale enters seeded second in its division and will attempt to secure the school’s first-ever championship in any girls’ sport.

The Nitros (16-6) are buoyed by an unprecedented CIF run and by a regular season that saw all six of their defeats take place in the sturdy Pacific League.

“The only teams that we lost to are still playing,” Glendale High doubles player Elen Ghazaryan said Wednesday afternoon following her team’s 12-6 semifinal win over visiting third-seeded Hemet. “This is a good league and we played [well] in it. We’re ready.”

The Pacific League’s top four teams were scattered into Division I, II, III and IV.

All four squads reached at least the quarterfinal round, with league champion Arcadia losing in the Division I semifinals and league runner-up Crescenta Valley advancing to the Division III finals at 11 a.m. versus Redlands.

Glendale finished 0-6 versus those schools with its last defeat a 14-4 setback to the Falcons on Oct. 17.

The very next day, Glendale started a seven-match winning streak with a 13-5 nonleague victory over eventual Division V semifinalist Maranatha.

The Nitros added a regular-season ending triumph over Burroughs (11-7) and then ran off postseason wins over Mark Keppel (11-7), Gladstone (17-1), Foothill Tech (11-7), Rosemead (16-2) and Hemet (12-6).

No area girls’ tennis team has taken home a CIF crown since La Cañada in 1977.

One reason behind Glendale’s success this season is tied back to Crescenta Valley as former Falcons coach Tom Gossard has taken over the Nitros’ program.

Gossard piloted Crescenta Valley to the semifinals in 2003 and his assistant then, Sam Hyun, is at the helm for the Falcons during their run to a first championship match appearance.

Gossard brought a hard-nosed attitude to the hard courts.

“We didn’t miss a day of practice in the 105-degree heat,” Gossard said. “When everyone else was in, we were hitting during the heatwave. We played hurt during the heatwave. Every day they practiced since Aug. 9, when we were first supposed to practice.”

While Glendale is a newcomer to the championship dance, the Nitros face a budding lower-division juggernaut in Rancho Mirage.

The fourth-seeded Rattlers are flat-out impressive and boast a 22-0-1 record this season and an amazing 44-match unbeaten streak (43-0-1) that extends back to the second round of the Division V playoffs in 2015.

Last season, girls’ tennis claimed the young school (founded in 2013) its first championship in any sport via a 12-6 win over Hemet in the Division V championship.

Despite moving up to Division IV, Rancho Mirage hasn’t missed a beat in winning the De Anza League title and finishing the regular season unbeaten.

“I knew we would be strong, but I didn’t exactly expect this,” said Rancho Mirage coach Owen McIntosh, who’s led the program since its inception. “I don’t think anyone who wins a division and then moves up a division thinks they’re just going to make it into the finals and win it.”

While a case can be made that Glendale plays in a much stronger league than Rancho Mirage, maybe only the Rattlers can claim their practice schedule to be even more rigorous than the Nitros.

“We have excellent chemistry, but that’s really no mystery,” McIntosh said. “The reason we have it is because we practice hard all year and work on things consistently.

“My girls go through what I consider an NCAA Division I practice schedule. They hit thousands of balls in the preseason, we drill relentlessly and then we start playing matches. In between matches, on the days we have off, we also do more drilling.”

Rancho Mirage punched its ticket to the finals via playoff wins over Ly Lycee (16-2), North Torrance (11-7), St. Lucy’s (12-6) and top-seeded Elsinore (11-7) in Wednesday’s semifinals. The Rattlers have won nine straight playoff matches.

The winner of Saturday’s championship will have the opportunity to file a postseason bid to the CIF State Southern California Regional Tennis Tournament starting Friday, Nov. 17 at the Claremont Club.

andrew.campa@latimes.com

Twitter @campadresports

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