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Leading Athletes Named to Times’ All-County Teams : Boys’ Tennis : When Briggs Is Serving, Youth Is Generally Served

Times Staff Writer

Mike Briggs of Corona del Mar High School is only a sophomore, but when he is on the tennis court, such distinctions become meaningless.

Briggs has never been intimidated by tennis players older than he--not in his latest big match, nor in his earliest.

Last month, Briggs became one of the rare sophomores to upset some of the most formidable upperclassmen in Southern California to earn the Southern Section 4-A singles title.

In the semifinals, Briggs beat senior Forrest Hunt of South Torrance. Hunt, ranked No. 1 in the 18-and-under division of Southern California junior tennis, had beaten Briggs in seven previous meetings, but his senior citizen discount apparently expired at the section tournament.

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In the final match, Briggs displayed equally little respect for his elders, defeating Mira Costa’s Jeff Tarango, a junior.

Briggs has been prepared to deal with older players since he first looked up at them across a net. His brother Steve, five years older and a fine tennis player in his own right, was one of his little brother’s earliest victims.

Consider his introduction to serious tennis, a match he still remembers well.

Mike was 7 when his father, Bob Briggs, entered him in the 10-and-under division of the Glendora junior tennis tournament. The “under” part applied especially well to Briggs--small even by 7-year-old standards, he ran the risk of being pulled off-balance by his own Chris Evert racquet.

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But Briggs’ ability, then as now, was out of proportion to his age. His opponent, a towering 10-year-old, soon realized that mere size and experience were going to be insufficient against this 7-year-old’s amazingly resilient baseline game.

So, the more seasoned opponent resorted to trying to beat him with psychology, liberally mixed with rotten sportsmanship. Briggs was not long out of kindergarten and somewhat unaware of the finer points of the game. He innocently caught a long ball on the fly without letting it bounce out of bounds. The older player screamed and yelled.

When it was Briggs’ turn to serve, the other kid hit the balls into the corners of the court and over the fence, where Briggs had to retrieve them.

The opponent demonstrated the full spectrum of psych-out skills, including pouting, cheating, ranting and raving. Briggs was nearly in tears at one point. But he won anyway and advanced through the rounds of the 64-player tournament to the final.

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“He was never real excited about losing,” said Bob Briggs. “It’s like Chris Evert said: ‘It isn’t so much wanting to win as it is not wanting to lose.’ ”

Dave Heffern, Corona del Mar coach, said, “He is as competitive a person as I have ever met in my life, not just in tennis. But he’s very fair. He’d rather lose a point than call a ball out that was questionable.”

Briggs said, “A lot of people go out and lose the first set and stop trying. I’ve only done that two times in my life . . . I always look at things like this--when I go home, will I regret it?”

Briggs has had very little to regret in his tennis career. At 12, he was the No. 1 player of his age in the nation, and last summer, he was ranked 10th in the country in the 16-and under division.

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His general composure and manners on the court have brought him several tournament sportsmanship awards, in addition to his competitive success.

He bears a resemblance to a modern-day Tom Sawyer--the sunburned snub nose, the cracked bottom lip and an amused expression in his eyes that gives him the appearance of constantly being up to something.

“He is kind of like Tom Sawyer,” Bob Briggs said. “He is very much his own person, but he tends to be very stubborn, too.”

Briggs’ ability has carried him to Australia as member of U.S. Junior Tennis Team, as well as to Germany and less exotic places, such as Kalamazoo, Mich., where he twice won national junior doubles titles.

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One of his local partners, Ross Case, is the 1977 Wimbledon doubles champion from Australia, who also teaches him at Big Canyon Country Club. The doubles team of Case and Briggs were upset in the final of this year’s Adoption Guild Tennis Tournament at the Newport Beach Tennis club. They were the champions last year, despite the fact that Briggs, at 15, was one of the youngest players in the men’s division.

“I think he’s a better player than I was at his age,” Case said. “Sometimes I have to remind myself that he is so young.”

Said Heffern: “He’s the first player I’ve had who has had the talent and the discipline. When you have the talent and the discipline, you also end up a champion.”

Briggs tries to strike some balance between the demands of tennis and life’s other pursuits. Prior to the Southern Section tournament, he began playing three hours of tennis every afternoon and waking up at 5:45 a.m. daily to run with Heffern.

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“I could work a lot harder (at tennis), but then I would probably be sick of the game in maybe two years,” Briggs said.

His longtime coach, Kirk Orahood of Mesa Verde Country Club in Costa Mesa, explained, “He sees other guys who play tennis all the time as misfits, and Mike doesn’t want to do that.”

But even Briggs’ recreation time involves stringed instruments. His other favorite pastime is playing the guitar, a talent he picked up several years ago after he traded Orahood two old tennis racquets for the coach’s used guitar.

He plays in a band, the Q-Tips, with tennis teammate McG Nichol, a singer; drummer Jeff Roberts; rhythm guitarist Eric Vinje, a Sea King water polo player; and bassist Chris Morgan, another water polo player.

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The group, which specializes in 50s and 60s tunes, has played two Corona del Mar dances and several parties, including one that drew the police, who impounded the band’s instruments for a week.

“I tried to get the police to keep them,” jokes Bob Briggs.

Orahood said, “Mike is like a part of my family or a little brother. It would be hard to duplicate our relationship with any of my other students. It’s unique.”

It is only in the past few months that Orahood has come to believe that Briggs, who is 5-9 and has developed a stronger serve and volley game, could have a career as a professional tennis player.

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“Mike was always really little, and everyone said people would pass him up when he got older,” Orahood said. “But it hasn’t happened.

“I never thought he’d be able to hit as hard as he is now, and his serve is a lot faster than I thought it ever would be.”

Briggs’ short-term goal is to qualify for this summer’s Davis Cup junior tennis team for players 18-and-under. His long-term goal is to join the pro tour.

“That is what I want to do, but you never can tell,” he said. “Even if I fall flat, I can always teach tennis. But college is first, and my junior year is before that.”

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FIRST TEAM

Name School Class Singles Per Bornbusch Edison Sr. Mike Briggs Corona del Mar So. Doug Eisenman Foothill Jr. George Paulson University Sr. Doubles Brett Burns Corona del Mar Sr. Mike Janicin Corona del Mar Sr. Carl Flint Valencia Jr. Greg Nations Valencia Sr.

SECOND TEAM

Singles: Jerry Frantz (El Modena) Sr.; Price Kerfoot (Newport Harbor) Sr.; Gary Pearn (Mission Viejo) Jr.; Eduardo Peregrino (Western) So.

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Doubles: Blake Denison (Capistrano Valley) So., Jamio Otcha (Capistrano Valley) So; Paul Corkery (University) Jr., Mike Hirt (University) Jr.


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