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Success Relative for Duo : Tennis: Moorpark College’s mother-and-daughter combination makes for a winning set.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Watching Moorpark College’s No. 1 doubles team play is sort of like seeing those old soap commercials--look at their backhands and decide which player is the mother and which is the daughter.

Their relationship isn’t always apparent to opponents, but it quickly becomes clear the first time Elise Nakawatase looks at Patti Nakawatase and says, “Nice shot, Mom.”

This unlikely pairing of college freshmen, a 45-year-old mother and her 18-year-old daughter, was as unexpected as it has been successful.

Patti, who never had competed in school-based athletics, already was planning to take some classes at Moorpark when Elise asked her to join a tennis team badly in need of players.

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“I didn’t really realize what I got into,” Patti said.

Patti and Elise have been more than a novelty, winning seven of their 11 doubles matches. In singles, Patti is 8-1 at No. 6, and Elise is 9-6 at No. 1.

Their doubles team is among those receiving a first-round bye for the Western State Conference tournament, which begins today and continues through Sunday at Santa Barbara.

“It’s been a little hectic and stressful, but I’ve enjoyed doing it,” said Patti, who didn’t go on to college after graduating from Venice High in 1962. “It’s been fun to play with them. They’re all so nice, but they hit so hard and never get tired.”

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Patti and Elise had played together before, usually when Patti needed a substitute for her social matches, but Elise played parent-child tournaments with her father. As might be expected, mother and daughter have a certain kinship on the court.

Elise’s powerful strokes and speed complement Patti’s doubles acumen. Playing in three club leagues as well as frequent doubles matches with friends has left Patti versed in the nuances of doubles play, recondite knowledge for college players accustomed to singles.

“They play well together,” Moorpark Coach Nancy Stewart said. “Patti knows the court real well. Elise is very athletic.”

Patti’s specialties are poaches, lobs and off-speed shots, but Elise says her mother hits the ball hard enough that “I know I don’t have to worry about getting the ball slammed in my face.

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“What I like is my mom can hold her own most of the time,” Elise said. “I know they tend to pick on her more because she’s the older one, but my mom pretty much shows them.”

Elise and Patti recently showed their moxie against WSC power Santa Barbara. After falling behind, 4-1, Nakawatase and Nakawatase battled back to win the first set, 7-6, and the match, 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (6-8), 6-0.

“I feel good on the court with her because she’ll hold up her end and sometimes mine,” Patti said. “We get along better on the court than we do anywhere else.

“When we’re on the court, we’re partners, but anywhere else it’s mother-daughter.”

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The two are amicable on the court, with each other and their opponents. Their relaxed demeanor and easy friendliness are a departure from the days when Elise wouldn’t let her mother watch her juniors matches because having Patti on the sidelines made her too nervous.

“We’ve gotten closer now since we’ve been playing,” Elise said. “We have more to talk about now. Before we didn’t get along as well.”

This spring, Patti and Elise have metaphorically walked a mile in each other’s Nikes.

Elise now has to cook some meals for her father and younger brother because Patti has night classes, and Patti better appreciates Elise’s life as a student.

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“I think it’s made us understand each other much better,” Elise said. “Personality-wise I’d say we’re about the same. Attitude-wise and study habit-wise we’re different.”

“She’s more organized. Me, I take it as it comes.”

The most difficult aspect of college athletics for Patti has been fitting all the time demands into her schedule.

Patti juggles her 12-hour class load, which she needs to stay eligible for athletics, with a 15-hour-a-week job at a Westlake Village accounting firm and with keeping the family’s Agoura Hills household humming.

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In addition, she has standing commitments for several matches a week in leagues and with friends.

Too busy to practice with the team, Patti said she nonetheless feels comfortable on the squad.

“She’s a lot of fun,” said Amy Perry, a member of Moorpark’s No. 2 doubles team. On trips, “she always sits up front with the coach, and they usually talk the whole time. The other girls sit and gossip, and they talk ‘mom-stuff.’ ”

Cathleen Clark, another member of the No. 2 doubles team, admitted the players sometimes “have to watch what we say; we kind of whisper sometimes,” but added, “She’s just like one of the girls.”

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Yet Patti has a different perspective on college athletics than the rest of the team.

Elise hopes to parlay her Moorpark experience into a spot on a four-year college team, but for Patti, the experience has been an end unto itself.

Patti says she would have to quit her job to play next season, a sacrifice she’s not eager to make. She’s still concentrating on completing this season, which could last into mid-May.

If Elise and Patti win their first WSC tournament match, they’ll be in the final eight, which will automatically qualify them for the Southern California regional of the state tournament.

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If they do advance to regionals, which begin next Friday, they’ll have to be considered dark-horse contenders.

The last day of the regionals is, after all, Mother’s Day.


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