Keri Phebus was once just a tennis tag-a-long, following her older sister, Kristi, to tournaments, hoping that someday she too could be one of the top junior players in the nation.
Today, Phebus, a freshman at Corona del Mar High School, is definitely one of the best junior players in the county . . . and the nation.
Phebus, The Times’ athlete of the week, swept all three of her sets last week in helping the Sea Kings to victories over Rolling Hills, University and Newport Harbor.
In the 19 games, Phebus lost only once. She defeated Rolling Hills’ No. 1 singles player, senior Rene Capri, 6-1.
This season, Phebus is 27-0, winning all but 2 of those sets at 6-0.
Is Phebus surprised at her success?
“Not really,” she said. “It’s just exciting to play for your school, and to win for them. . . . I just go out there and do my best. If I lose, I lose. Nothing’s really shocking anymore.”
Phebus, 14, attributes her low-key demeanor to her early start in the sport. At 6, she started playing tennis because she wanted to be like her sister, Kristi, who is 3 years older. (Kristi, a senior, is playing No. 3 singles for Corona del Mar.)
At 8, Keri followed Kristi to a national tournament in Florida, and played in the 12-and-under division as a wild-card entrant.
“I’d take Kristi to the court to hit around, and Keri would be right there, always asking, ‘Can I hit a few dad?’ ” Dick Phebus said. “I’d kind of look up at the sky and say, ‘Oh, come on Keri, not now.’
“I think that just made her work harder. She had that ‘I’m going to show you who’s the tennis player around here’ attitude.”
It must have worked. At 11, Phebus won two national 12-and-under tournaments, hardcourt and indoors.
“Her coach at the time said very early on that he didn’t see many like this,” Dick Phebus said. “And he’d been coaching for more than 30 years. He said it was Keri’s desire, her never-say-die attitude that could lead her (to success). She was 10 years old at the time.”
This season, Phebus has set her sights on winning the Southern Section 5-A individual title. “I’m hoping to play in the Olympics, and if I keep progressing, I’d like to turn pro by the time I’m 17,” she said. “Also, I want to compete in college, either Stanford or UCLA.”
With a 4.0 grade-point average, Phebus is an achiever’s achiever. “She has more desire than 10 people,” her father said. “Not just in tennis, in everything. If she gets an A-minus in school, she’ll go in to the teacher and ask ‘Why ? ‘ “
Tanja Brix of University ran the fastest girls’ time of the day Saturday at the Central Park Cross-Country Invitational at Huntington Beach. Brix, a freshman, finished the 3-mile race in 18:37, 19 seconds faster than her closest competitor, Marta Pinto of Katella.
Laura Doering of Villa Park broke her own course record Thursday in leading the Spartans to a 23-32 Century League cross-country victory over Canyon. Doering, a senior, ran the hilly, 3-mile course at Eisenhower Park in 17:55, breaking her record by 3 seconds.
Marissa Hatchett had 30 kills to lead Sunny Hills to a 15-12, 15-5, 9-15, 8-15, 15-7 victory over La Habra in a Freeway League volleyball match Tuesday.
Corona del Mar High
*Position: Tennis player.
*Height, Class: 5-9, Freshman.
*Last Week: Phebus swept all nine sets in helping the Sea Kings to victories over Rolling Hills, University and New port Harbor. Phebus won all but one set at 6-0. She won the other set, 6-1.
*Season: Phebus is 27-0, having lost only 2 games all season.