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First for the Mohicans : Gardena High Freshman Wins City Singles Title

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although she just turned 14, Gardena High’s Jennifer Momii has already made an impact in local tennis circles.

She became the first freshman to win a City Section singles title last week by defeating top-seeded Sirsa Shekim of Palisades, 6-2, 6-1, in the final at the Racquet Centre in Studio City.

Momii, part of Gardena High’s first ninth-grade class, did not lose a set during her five victories leading to the championship. Karen Manson, also from Palisades, was Momii’s toughest opponent, dropping a 6-0, 6-4 semifinal match.

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Undefeated in match play this season, Momii (17-0) led the Mohicans to a third-place finish in the Southern Pacific League. She was seeded third in the tournament.

“I was kind of confident (going into the tournament), but I wasn’t sure how it was going to go because I didn’t know anybody that was playing,” Momii said.

When she returned to school after winning the City title, Momii was surprised at the reaction from fellow students.

“Right after the match, it didn’t hit me,” she said. “I didn’t think it was a big deal until everybody came up to me at school and said congratulations. I didn’t think they knew or cared.”

Daron Davis, in her fifth year as Gardena’s tennis coach, has known about Momii for three years.

“I met Jennifer when she was in sixth grade, but I didn’t really get to know her until this past year,” Davis said. “I’ve been waiting for her to come here, and we were ready for her when she came (to Gardena).”

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Momii began playing tennis when she was 8 after watching her mother play at South Park in Gardena. She started playing in tournaments when she was 10 and has taken lessons for the past four years from Chris Baar at the South End Tennis Club in Torrance.

This year Momii was a finalist in six junior tournaments, winning the Long Beach championships. She is ranked fifth in Southern California in the 14-and-under age division.

Davis says Momii’s strengths are her ground strokes.

“I think her backhand is her best stroke,” Davis said, “but Chris Baar thinks it’s her forehand.”

Palisades Coach Bud Kling, who saw Momii defeat his top two players, was impressed by the freshman.

“She’s very consistent and hits the ball very hard,” Kling said. “She’s a very smart player who plays within her capabilities.”

Baar said Momii’s ability to maintain her composure is one of her main attributes.

“She stays very calm and cool and doesn’t get excited (during matches),” Baar said. “But she does scream in practice, although in a good way.”

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In order to improve, Baar said Momii will need to make a bigger commitment to practice and play more often. He said Momii is unique because she has been successful, yet does not spend three to four hours practicing daily like many other rated players in her age group.

Momii acknowledges that she needs to improve several facets of her game, most notably volleying and serving.

“I’m working on coming to the net, although I don’t do it much because I’m not comfortable,” she said.

Although she is the youngest player on Gardena’s team, Momii was accepted immediately by her teammates.

“She fit in fine,” junior Shiho Miyagishima said. “She’s really outgoing, and always happy.”

Momii said Boris Becker is her favorite tennis player.

“I like his game and the fact that he doesn’t play (just for money),” she said. “I think the money is a little overdone, but if I could turn pro, I’d want all the money, too.”

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