Dahlia Sternberg hadn't even planned to go out for the women's tennis team when she enrolled at Pierce College last January.
But when Sternberg's season ended Friday, she found herself ranked among the top eight junior college players in California.
And it took unbeaten Michelle Chapple of Foothill to finally chase her out of the state JC tournament at the Cabrillo Racquet Club in Camarillo.
The Northern California champion improved her record to 22-0 with a 7-5, 6-4 quarterfinal victory over Sternberg, who extended Chapple for more than two hours before losing.
And so ended the season for Sternberg, a 23-year-old freshman from Israel who approached Pierce Coach Jan Bailey in January, asking if she could work out with the team to get back into shape.
Bailey, who had been recruiting players out of tennis classes, asked her if she wanted to join the team and Sternberg, who hadn't played competitively in seven years, was talked into it.
"I was a total wreck," Sternberg said of her physical condition at the time. "I hadn't done much of anything for seven years."
Actually, she had done quite a bit, serving two years in the Israeli Army, where she commanded troops in boot camp. She and her husband moved to the United States last fall to study, she said.
Her tennis success surprised her.
Although she is still not in top playing shape, she lost only once in Metropolitan Conference dual matches. She then lost in the Metro tournament final to Anna Castaneda of Santa Monica, who also beat her last month in the quarterfinals of the Ojai Valley tournament. Last week, she reached the semifinals in the Southern California regional.
"I didn't think I'd get back into it so quickly," Sternberg said.
She beat Kirsten Fairchilds of DeAnza in a first-round match Friday morning, 6-1, 6-1. And then she faced Chapple, a freshman from Atherton who planned to walk on at USC before becoming ill while on a cruise last December.
Chapple transferred to Foothill and hasn't lost yet. Said Foothill Coach Jeanne Tweed, "My phone's been ringing off the hook."
Sternberg thought she had played well against her, "but she's just a very good player."
Sternberg, too, has been attracting interest from four-year schools.
She plans to transfer next fall to a school in Northern California--she finds the Valley "too crowded and smoggy"--but isn't sure if she'll continuing playing. Her husband wants to go to school, too, she said, "and I might have to work."
Was she disappointed that her season had come to an end?
"No," she said. "I have to study."
Nelson Gary III of Pierce, matched against Northern California champion Miles Walker of Marin in the first round, made a quick exit from the men's draw. Walker, 24, who played for Cal in 1982, eliminated Gary in the first round, 7-5, 6-2.
Gary, who had been suffering from the flu, withdrew from the Southern California regional last week after qualifying for the state tournament.
"I warned him then that he would get a tougher draw if he defaulted," Pierce Coach Paul Xanthos said. "He got the worst draw in the tournament."
After the match, though, Xanthos said Gary told him that if he was going to lose, he'd just as soon lose in the first round.