After Westlake High won the Southern Section 3-A Division girls' tennis title and posted a 24-1 record last year, Coach Connie Flanderka looked forward to having eight of the team's nine players back this season.
Flanderka's hopes suffered a blow during the fall, however, when Ari Kia moved to Calabasas, Kim Olson decided to concentrate on soccer and Alexandra Backes quit to get more involved with the school's drama program.
But with a pair of top-notch freshmen, Joanna Mazur and Michelle Clark, stepping into the picture, Flanderka is feeling a little better about the Warriors' chances of defending their Southern Section title.
Mazur has made an immediate impact on the veteran team, becoming Westlake's No. 1 singles player. One of the top-ranked 14-year-old-and-under players in Southern California, Mazur adds strength to an already solid singles lineup. Clark, meanwhile, has found a place at No. 2 doubles with another newcomer, junior Jennifer Schuster.
"We have a lot of depth," said Flanderka, whose team is rated No. 1 in the preseason 3-A poll. "Even my JV players can step in (at the varsity level) and play well. A lot of my JVs would be playing varsity at another school."
Westlake is at its best in singles, where senior Jennifer Reese and junior Kim Stewart will move down a notch in the lineup to the Nos. 2 and 3 positions. Reese and Stewart not only anchored the Warriors last season in singles, they also made an impact in doubles, reaching the quarterfinals of the Southern Section individual championships.
Senior Alison Levitt will move from singles to doubles this season, where she will form Westlake's top team with another senior, Lauren Mazur. Lauren is Joanna Mazur's sister and played No. 1 doubles a year ago with a different partner.
A pair of junior varsity performers, seniors Catherine King and Blayne Carter, move up to No. 3 doubles.
Depth was the difference in a tough 10-8 victory over Beverly Hills in the 3-A semifinals and in an even tighter final against Calabasas last year, where the Warriors won, 77-72, in games after splitting 18 sets.
"We are very competitive among ourselves, particularly at the top," Flanderka said.
Flanderka said she expects Diamond Bar to be Westlake's toughest competition for sectional honors, and Camarillo and Agoura to pose the biggest threats in the always-competitive Marmonte League.
TEAMS TO WATCH
Calabasas: The Coyotes came within five games of taking the 3-A title and are ranked No. 8 in the preseason 3-A coaches' poll, but not all has gone well for Coach Bill Bellaty.
Stacy Jellen, expected to be Calabasas' No. 1 player and an athlete who already has a ranking on the women's professional tour, is skipping the high school season to concentrate on a tournament schedule. Tracy Paris, another strong veteran, probably will miss two-thirds of the season recovering from a leg operation.
But the cupboard is far from bare. Kia has established herself at No. 1 singles, and returning players junior Faye Reisman and sophomore Mandy Meo will move into the other singles positions. The Coyotes are inexperienced at doubles, with junior Lauren Feldman the only returner.
Harvard-Westlake: After years of success as an all-girls' school, Westlake-Los Angeles has combined with the all-boys' Harvard of North Hollywood to form a co-ed institution. But that adjustment should not slow down the Wolverines, who have eight of their top 11 players back from a team that went to the 3-A quarterfinals last year.
Fourth-year Coach Ben Harvey believes his team will be even better this year, strengthened by Buckley transfer Leanne Mouw at No. 3 singles. His top singles player, sophomore Lindsay Wasserman, is ranked No. 4 in Southern California in the 14-year-old-and-under division and No. 2 singles standout Romy Mehlman, a freshman, is ranked in the top 30. A fourth potential singles player is Lisa Smolinisky, a talented junior.
The Wolverines, ranked No. 4 in the 3-A preseason coaches' poll, also have an experienced lineup of doubles players. Seniors Vanessa Richards and Allison Gordon form the top team, with junior Jennifer Criesberg and sophomore Gloria Abramson forming a talented team at No. 2. Allison Quaglino and Nicole Slayton give Harvard-Westlake more senior depth at No. 3.
Chaminade: Jennifer Anderson comes from Crossroads to take over as coach of a squad that advanced to the 2-A semifinals last season and lost only one player.
The Eagles, ranked sixth in the 2-A preseason coaches' poll, are tough at the top with sophomore Laura Gross and senior Samantha Sargent. Gross is ranked among the top-30 16-year-old girls by the U.S. Tennis Assn. Gross and Sargent were undefeated last year in San Fernando League play. Adding to that singles strength is Natalie Curtiss, a senior who sat out last season after starting for Agoura as a sophomore.
Seniors Jill Hudson and Jennifer Seidman advanced to the Southern Section individual doubles tournament last year, and senior Renee Dua and junior Carol Lim have taken the No. 2 doubles spot after moving up from the junior varsity.
The Eagles' depth is exhibited by the battle for the No. 3 doubles position. The team of sophomores Heather Klein and Clarine Lim (no relation to Carol Lim) is fighting juniors Devon Chmura and Tracy Welch.
Chaminade has won three consecutive league titles, the last two by going undefeated, and will be heavily favored again.
Notre Dame will pose the biggest threat. The Eagles will get a tougher challenge in nonleague matches against Agoura (Oct. 7) and Calabasas (Oct. 22).
Grant: The Lancers advanced to the City Section 4-A semifinals last season before losing to eventual champion Palisades. This year Coach Melva Heinsohn believes the team can go all the way.
Alice Lee, a senior, is a three-year veteran who seldom loses at No. 1 singles, and junior Dana Howerton also is back.
Much-improved Shelley Showalter has moved up to varsity singles for her senior year and Melanie Shannon, a talented junior transfer, completes the singles lineup. Kate Phantip, another junior transfer, should add depth to Grant's doubles teams.
"This is a smart bunch of girls," Heinsohn said.