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La Cañada girls' tennis ends drought with CIF Division II championship

CLAREMONT — The La Cañada High girls’ tennis team had a chance to erase a four-decade drought in between CIF Southern Section championships.

The Spartans looked to accomplish that feat Friday in the Division II championship match at the Claremont Club. However, La Cañada needed to get past Aliso Niguel, which was making its first finals appearance.

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In an overall complete team effort, La Cañada defeated Aliso Niguel, 13-5, to claim the title for the first time since 1977.

In convincing fashion, La Cañada found itself half way to the title midway in the second round and building a 9-3 lead.

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The match was ultimately clinched when Spartans freshman No. 2 singles player Maya Urata delivered a forehand winner to pick up the clinching set.

“I’m glad I can walk to our gym at La Cañada High and I see all those basketball CIF stuff and volleyball CIF stuff and I can finally say we’re going to be up there,” La Cañada coach Will Moravec said.

The team’s journey to the title involved only one home match, a quarterfinal victory Monday against Claremont.

La Cañada (14-4), which finished second in the Rio Hondo League, traveled to Brentwood in the first round, trekked to No. 2 Redlands and rolled through fourth-seed Long Beach Poly before making the trip to the Claremont Club to face the South Coast No. 3 Aliso Niguel (18-6).

“I was more nervous for the quarterfinals and the semifinals,” Moravec said. “You start out and say ‘Okay, we’re in a good division, I hope we can win a round.’ But, especially after we beat Redlands and everyone’s saying that you have a really good team, then all of a sudden, you have that expectation of ‘you’re suppose to win,’ and I never let that on to the girls.

“They have to deal with enough pressure the way it is, but those last two matches, I literally had knots in my stomach before the game started.”

Sophie McKenzie, the reigning All-Area Singles Player of the Year, at No. 1 singles overcame a tough first set to earn a sweep, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1. Urata closed out with a sweep as well at No. 2, 6-1, 7-5, 6-0.

“I really just wanted to be the last match finished,” said Urata on her 6-0 set victory that clinched the match. “It felt pretty cool because it cemented the victory.”

McKenzie and Urata overcame early first-round struggles.

“It always happens to me, which is a habit I should probably break,” McKenzie said. “It’s just getting into the match [in your head]. I do that quite often. I dropped the first two or three games, but it just takes me a minute to get into the match.”

McKenzie fought back from a 2-1 set deficit in her opener, while Urata saw her 3-0 lead turn into a 4-3 deficit before finishing strong.

“It was pretty stressful considering it was a finals match and it was really close,” Urata said. “I was just focused on what was going on and not about what the score was.”

At No. 3 singles, Annabelle Kevakian helped close out the first-round cushion with a 6-1 win.

“Every round, we just kept building off of each other,” McKenzie said. “We got so much closer with traveling and stuff, and it’s been really fun.”

The No. 1 doubles team of senior Ashley Chun and freshman Eliana Hanna swept their opponents, 6-4, 6-2, 6-0.

“We just went out here and did the best we could and hoped that we could win,” Hanna said. “It paid off.”

Like the singles players in the opening round, the No. 1 duo fell behind early, but bounced back to give the Spartans some wiggle room going into the second round.

“I hate to say it, but I’m a very realistic person, so I wasn’t trying to get too optimistic or anything,” Chun said. “My main goal was just to get the ball over and then hit the shots so that [Hanna] can hit a winner.”

The Spartans got a pair of wins from No. 2 pair Solenn Matuska and Natalie Son, 6-3, 6-4, and received one win from the No. 3 duo of Artis Phillips and Sonia Bhaskaran, 6-4.

“For the last three years, it seemed like it was never going to happen,” McKenzie said. “I got really excited when we finally won our first match last year. Then we make it this far and it’s so amazing and I’m so proud of everyone that we were able to get this far. I never would have imagined that it would’ve happened.”

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