GIRLS' TENNIS PREVIEW : Allegre Could Lead Camarillo to Its Crowning Achievement

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Coach Frances Giffin said one need not be a queen to know how precious it is to wear a crown and sit on one's own throne.

Her Camarillo High girls' tennis team hopes to inherit both this season. And the Scorpions have a dominant player to lead them: Monique Allegre.

Allegre, a senior who plays No. 1 singles, is ranked No. 10 among 18-and-under players by the Southern California Tennis Assn. Most serious juniors players do not play high school tennis because of the inferior competition.

"I'm surprised she's playing this year," Giffin said. "But I purposely set up some good (nonleague) competition to keep Monique interested."

Allegre came back, in part, because the 1993 season provided her with a breakthrough victory. She pulled off a surprising 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory over third-seeded Laura Ruben of Mater Dei in the quarterfinals of the individual Southern Section tournament.

"It just boosted my confidence," she said. "It showed me I could play with anyone."

Camarillo posted a 13-1 record last year but tied with Westlake for the league title. The Scorpions (16-3 overall) eased some of that disappointment by giving eventual runner-up Newport Harbor a push before falling, 13-5, in the quarterfinals of the sectional tournament.

But with Allegre and No. 2 singles player Darian Chappell back, the Scorpions are more than Marmonte favorites. Ranked No. 4 in Division I by the Southern Section, they appear to be the best team in the area.

But Camarillo, which has twice shared the Marmonte League title with Westlake, won't be satisfied with anything less than sole possession of the league championship. The Scorpions have never won a league title outright.

"I just know we have the talent to do it this year," Giffin said. "That's all we care about at this point."

Calabasas might have challenged Camarillo as the top team in the area had it not lost Kirsten Gross, a top 16-and-under player. Gross, a junior, reached her age-group final in the Ojai Valley tournament in April and was seeded sixth in the SCTA sectional, but she's skipping the high school season because of a heavy academic load.

"I'm trying to get ready for college and I have a lot of (advance placement) classes," she said. "But I miss the team. The other day during the morning announcement, they named off the players who had won in our first match. I thought I was going to cry."

Calabasas is ranked No. 6 in Division II, one spot higher than Harvard-Westlake, the two-time defending Division III champion. Romy Mehlman, the Wolverines' No. 1 singles player, said the team will be better than last year's squad that beat higher-level competition before breezing to a 13-5 victory in the title match against Glendora St. Lucy.

Teams to watch:

Camarillo--The Scorpions, ranked fourth in Division I, are off to a good start, 5-1 overall and 2-0 in league. They lost, 10-8, to third-ranked Santa Barbara, losing the final set in a tiebreaker.

Chappell, a sophomore, returns at No. 2 singles. After sitting out last season, senior Laura Crawford is playing at No. 3. The No. 1 team of Jennifer Messmer and Melissa Feld lead a strong corps of doubles players.

Calabasas--The Coyotes' hopes for the Division III title last year ended when Gross suffered a season-ending ankle injury. Now they must play an entire season without her. But returning singles players Shera Wiegler and Deborah Pepkowitz, and El Camino Real transfer Amanda Cey, should pick up the slack.

Wiegler, Pepkowitz and Cey--daughter of former Dodger Ron Cey--lost only one game in nine sets against Burbank last week. Calabasas is 2-0.

Harvard-Westlake--Mehlman returns after a junior season in which she won 57 of 63 sets. Senior Natalie Rice, sophomore Jackie Gortman and freshman Lindsy Fordess are rotating at Nos. 2 and 3 singles.

Andrea Devine and Melanie Schoenberg are defending Mission League champions at No. 1 doubles. Harvard-Westlake, 22-3 last year, is 2-0-1. The tie was against Corona del Mar, ranked seventh in Division I.

The Wolverines are seventh in Division II. Coach Richard Kinuya said his team might have been good enough last year to win the Division II title rather than Division III.

"The girls were on auto pilot," he said. "This year they have something to prove."

Rio Mesa--The Spartans might not have enough to win the Channel League, which has two of the top five teams in Division I--Santa Barbara and San Marcos. But Rio Mesa is a force to contend with because of exchange student Zuzana Stunova.

Stunova, a sophomore from the Czech Republic, beat Allegre, 6-4, on Monday and is 11-0. Seniors Jessica Improta, an honors student who likely will play in the Ivy League next year, and Danielle Ouwendijk will play Nos. 2 and 3 singles. As a doubles team last year, Improta and Ouwendijk reached the semifinals of the section tournament.

Westlake--While the coaches at Camarillo and Rio Mesa are praising nearby Cabrillo Racquet Club for providing top players, Warrior Coach Connie Flanderka says her talent pool is drying up.

Still, Flanderka expects Westlake to be better than its No. 9 ranking in Division I.

"We'll be better than that by the end of the season, even though we're really a Division II school," she said.

Freshman Helena Horak is 8-1 at No. 1 singles. Opponents call her "the backboard" because of consistent returns. Sophomore Erin Smith jumps from No. 1 doubles to No. 2 singles, and senior Joanna Mazur, the lone remaining member of the 1991 section champion team, plays at No. 3.

Burbank: The Bulldogs (16-2 last year) have gone undefeated in the Foothill League two seasons in a row and entered 1994 with a No. 6 ranking in Division III. Four all-league players graduated last spring and another, Esther Park, is skipping her senior season. Junior Sofia Managadze, who would have challenged for a section championship, moved back to her native Georgia--a former Soviet republic.

Analisa Swan and Lolita Alcocer must pick up the slack in singles. In doubles, Kendall Nohre and Piunik Shabani are the only returners.

Taft--The Toreadors, the two-time defending City 4-A champions, lost Brahna Pastorini, 1992 City Section champion who lost only one match in her high school career. Back is Julia Feldman, the team's No. 1 singles player, and Taft should again be the best team among Valley City Section schools.

Senior Ravid Levi moves from No. 3 singles to join Alicia Whelen at No. 1 doubles.

Players to watch:

Monique Allegre--The senior has made several tough transitions to improve her game. Giffin said Allegre lost a few sets last year because she switched from a two-handed to a one-handed backhand stroke.

Allegre is being recruited by Arizona, Arizona State, Kansas, Nevada Las Vegas and Michigan.

Zuzana Stunova--She came to California on vacation this summer and decided to stay. She can barely speak English, but her racquet speaks volumes.

"She has a cannon," Rio Mesa Coach Steve Worthington said. "I'm just amazed how she can generate power. The ball just turns into a bullet."

The only piece of information Worthington has on her tennis background is that her mother was once Martina Navratilova's hitting partner.

Romy Mehlman--Like Allegre, Mehlman made big strides over the summer. She beat Tu Dong of Long Beach, ranked No. 7 among Southern California 18-and-under players at the time. She lost to former Harvard-Westlake schoolmate and eventual champion Ania Bleszynski in the third round of the sectional tournament.

Julia Feldman--Will this be Feldman's year to win the City individual championship? She certainly has paid her dues, losing to Pastorini in the 1992 championship match and losing to eventual champion Kendra Segura of Dorsey in the 1993 semifinals.

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