A college scout attended the recent City Section 4-A Division tennis semifinals to observe players from University and Palisades highs. During a lull, he approached a group of Chatsworth players.
"You guys here to watch the matches?" he inquired.
"No, we're the other team here," replied Sanjay Srinivasan, the Chancellors' No. 2 singles player. "We're here too."
Perhaps embarrassed by the exchange, the scout spoke briefly, almost apologetically, with Chatsworth Coach Joe Santellano, asking a few perfunctory questions about the team's talent pool.
The gaffe came as little surprise to Srinivasan and his teammates because respect has eluded Chatsworth like a well-placed, topspin lob.
Success, however, has not. Unseeded Chatsworth squeaked past defending 4-A champion Palisades, 15-14 1/2, and will play University today at 2 p.m. at the Racquet Centre of Universal City, marking Chatsworth's debut in the final. Meanwhile, Kennedy will face Dorsey in the 3-A title match at 2 p.m. at the Racquet Centre.
"We don't want the dream to end," Chatsworth's Tony Joseph said. "University is going to go down."
Not so fast, Tony. The Warriors (15-1), who advanced to the final with a 27-2 1/2 victory over North Hollywood, have what some--including University Coach Tom Anderson--call one of the strongest teams in City Section history. University, seeded No. 1, has four of the eight top-seeded singles players in the individual championships, which will conclude next week.
Taft defeated Chatsworth twice this season, but the Toreadors forfeited their victories after using an ineligible player. Chatsworth (18-0) won the West Valley League and Northwest Valley Conference titles.
Rather than relying on a few standouts, the Chancellors have employed a balanced attack.
"We have a team philosophy," said Santellano. "We've never had a highly-ranked player so we get our points wherever we can."
Anderson admires Santellano's democratic approach.
"I think Joe does a really good job of building team attitude at Chatsworth," he said.
During the playoffs, four singles players and three doubles teams represent a school in a round-robin format. One point is awarded to the victor of each of the four singles sets and 1 1/2 points to the winners of each of the three doubles sets. In order to maximize scoring, therefore, coaches shuffle players between singles and doubles.
A master juggler, Santellano keeps Chatsworth in a state of flux. For instance, Santellano recently paired Fred Weiner, who has had three other partners this season, with Marcus Yee. Weiner and Yee, the No. 3 tandem, swept their Palisades counterpart in the semifinals, helping to ensure the victory.
Chatsworth might have been stronger this season except for attrition. Eric Wang, a third-team All-City doubles player last season, quit the team to take a part-time job. Ji Kim, also All-City in doubles, and Tony DiGiorgio, who played on an undefeated doubles team with Weiner, were ruled academically ineligible.
However, others have filled in admirably. Phillip Tietjan, a 6-foot-6 exchange student from West Germany, excelled when he was teamed with Tony Joseph, who stands 5-5.
"That's a Mutt-and-Jeff team," Santellano said. "Tony's got all the bite. He's a wrestler and he's used to that hand-to-hand combat. He doesn't take any guff from the other team."
Junior Ron Charles plays No. 1 singles and is, perhaps, the only Chancellor with a chance to win a Division I scholarship. Charles is ranked 81st in boys 16s in Southern California. but his fighting spirit is representative of Chatsworth, Santellano said.
"Ron's just a scrapper at this point," he said. "Sometimes older kids will blow him off the court. He's going to be a very good player when he matures physically."
Although Chatsworth defeated University, 4-3, in the regular season, two of University's best players were ineligible for that match. In addition, University's Jason Clark, the 1988 City 4-A singles and 1989 doubles champion, had a pulled thigh muscle.
The victory was a watershed match for Chatsworth, Srinivasan said.
"A lot of guys on our team told me they were looking toward individuals because they honestly told me that we didn't have a shot at the playoffs as a team," he said. "Guys weren't looking at it from a team perspective.
"We all knew that University was missing players, but it got people thinking."
Now, Santellano wants his team to stop thinking.
"We're just trying to make sure our kids aren't discouraged or overwhelmed by (University's) reputation," Santellano said. "Because they're very confident, their presence can be intimidating."