During a changeover in a semifinal match of the Rio Hondo League Tournament, a conversation ensued between Ian and Nicholas Lee.
Things weren’t looking bright under the hot afternoon sun for the Lees at Live Oak Park in Temple City. Looking to extend their season, the brothers found themselves in quite a jam.
The seventh-seeded Lees dropped the first set, 6-0, to No. 6 Auberon Lai and Scott Chen of San Marino. They trailed, 4-1, in the second set. Still, it wasn’t too late for a discussion.
“I can still easily remember our talk,” Ian Lee said. “We told each other that we can’t let it end here and we needed to play a lot harder and smarter.
“Also, maybe the other team would start to get nervous. We started clicking and we came back.”
Nicholas Lee recalled the chat.
“We were telling each other that we needed to do a better job at getting to the balls and trying to wear down the other team. I guess the conversation came at the right time. I liked the way we responded after getting off to a tough start.”
The Lees recorded a 7-5 win in the second set and a 10-6 victory in the third set to advance to the championship match and automatically qualify for the CIF Individual Tournament.
The Lees fell, 6-2, 6-0, to No. 1 John Carter and Andrew Wong of San Marino in the championship match.
The Lees went 15-9, 8-6 in league and got a lot accomplished in another stellar season. In addition to reaching the league finals for the first time, the Lees advanced to the third round of the CIF Individual Tournament and helped the Spartans take second in league and qualify for the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs. La Cañada finished 11-4, 6-2.
It culminated with the Lees being selected as the All-Area Boys' Doubles Players of the Year for the second time in the last three seasons by the sportswriters at the La Cañada Valley Sun, Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader.
“Ian and Nicholas have put together some great seasons for our program since they came to La Cañada,” La Cañada coach Will Moravec said. “They get along well with each other and they are very talented. They had a great run in the league tournament this year.
“I can remember watching them talk during that second set in the semifinal match. They just needed to air things out. That happens a lot in all sports. They came back and had that great rally.”
The Lees had a first-round bye in the league tournament, which took place May 2-3. They earned an 8-1 second-round win against Brian Ling and Tommy Tang of Temple City.
After completing the league tournament, the Lees and La Cañada shifted gears to the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs. The Spartans began the postseason with a convincing 12-6 win against host Beverly Hills before succumbing, 13-5, to No. 3 Mira Costa at home.
Making their first appearance in the CIF Individual Tournament at Whittier Narrows Tennis Center in South El Monte on May 24, the Lees received a first-round bye and then recorded a 6-2, 6-1 win versus Downey’s Simon Cho and Renso De La Peña.
Feeling upbeat with their second-round win, the Lees met Stephan Thai and Jackson Boxall of Valencia Valencia in a third-round match. Unfortunately for the Lees, they encountered some tough luck. Thai and Boxall registered a 6-2 win in the first set. Prior to the start of the second set, the Lees retired after Nicholas Lee began suffering from leg cramps.
“You get to that tournament and you are going up against some great players and then that happens,” Nicholas said. “It was very much unexpected and it was just too hard to get after the balls with the cramps acting up. Had it happened later in the match, then I think we could have played it out.”
Said Ian Lee: “It was such a great experience to be a part of that tournament. We just got a little unlucky there. It’s hard trying to play through something like that.”
While it was a difficult way for the season to conclude, it didn’t put a damper on what the Lees got done.
“It was awesome to see them finally get to [the CIF Individual Tournament],” Moravec said. “They came off that great run in the league tournament and they did a great job at backing each other up.
“Nicholas has got a great two-handed backhand shot and Ian returns serves so well. I always liked the way they compliment each other.”
The brothers reflected on their four-year run at La Cañada, which included four playoff appearances following four second-place finishes in league behind powerhouse San Marino.
The Lees, who will be attending Azusa Pacific University in the fall, said they are proud of their achievements.
“We came into La Cañada as singles players and we learned to form a bigger bond playing doubles together,” Nicholas said. “I’m very happy we got to share that experience and we were able to become more complete players.”
Ian Lee agreed.