It didn't take long for Keri Phebus to make a name for herself as a freshman at Corona del Mar High School last season.
She had a 53-2 record, led her team to the Southern Section 4-A championship and won the section's singles title. She was the first Orange County girl to win the singles title and was named The Times' player of the year.
"I couldn't really do more than what I did this year," she said at season's end.
And she was right. How can you improve on a nearly perfect season?
Well, this year, Phebus went unbeaten. And Corona del Mar won its second consecutive 4-A title and Phebus again won the singles title, beating sophomore Anne Mall of Dana Hills, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, Friday.
So for the second year in a row, Phebus is The Times' Orange County player of the year.
After winning Friday's match, Phebus sat in the lounge at the Racquet Club of Irvine and said that despite her success, she hasn't been content with her play.
Oddly enough, having won the singles championship her first two years in high school has had a lot to do with it.
She's trying to improve her game for the long haul and has dumped her conservative baseline game in favor of an aggressive serve-and-volley style, one that will make her a better player on the national and international scene.
She has been working on it for only a month now and it's still a little rough around the edges.
So Phebus, top-ranked in the nation in the girls' 16 and under junior division, is taking the next month off from competition to perfect it.
"I changed everything in my game," she said. "That's why I didn't have any expectations coming into this tournament."
That wasn't the case with many others who expected her to breeze through the Southern Section singles tournament. Afterward, she acknowledged that others' expectations were on her mind.
"I think I overcame it," said Phebus, who said she no longer gets nervous for high school matches.
So what's next? Is there anything left for her to prove? Will she turn pro soon?
Those are the questions she faces in the coming months.
For now, she plans to play in the Australian Championships and the Junior Australian Open in January.
Only one other player, Kelly Henry of Glendale High, has won three Southern Section singles titles in a row (1977-79). So that's something Phebus can shoot for.
However, she said that the team competition is what keeps her playing high school tennis.
"It's up in the air whether I play again next year," Phebus said. "If the team has a chance to do well, I'll play."
ALL-COUNTY: GIRLS' TENNIS FIRST TEAM Singles
Name Yr. School Page Bartelt So. Capistrano Valley Anne Mall So. Dana Hills Keri Phebus So. Corona del Mar
Name Yr. School Karen Falconer Jr. Foothill Jennifer Gin Sr. Jamie Fouret Jr. Dana Hills Kelly Lynch Sr. Jackie O'Leary Jr. Corona del Mar Kristen Pollock Jr.
SECOND TEAM Singles
Name Yr. School Lisa Alipaz Jr. Canyon Dina Birch Sr. Estancia Jenny Marques Sr. Laguna Hills
Name Yr. School Angela Arias Jr. Capistrano Valley Farrah Tierney So. Tracy Botha Jr. El Dorado Jennifer Dinicola Sr. Kim Conter So. Mater Dei Trisha Abe Fr.