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TENNIS / DIVISION II CHAMPIONSHIPS : Laguna Beach Seniors Wilt in Clutch; Villa Park Wins

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Laguna Beach seniors Michelle Bray, Lindsay Weiss and Sarah Cohen won three Southern Section girls’ tennis titles together. Tuesday, they lost a section title together.

After coming up big so many times through the years, Bray, Weiss and Cohen wilted all at once against Villa Park in the Division II finals at the Claremont Club.

The top-seeded Artists needed only one set from one of their seniors in the last round. But Bray went down, 6-0, then Weiss lost, 6-1, and finally Cohen and her doubles partner Vanessa Zajfen fell, 6-2.

The teams finished tied, 9-9, and after several tense moments of adding up the final game score, Laguna Beach fell too--by one game, 72-71. While Villa Park celebrated its first girls’ tennis championship, Weiss couldn’t stop shaking her head.

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“I’m disappointed,” she said. “Knowing it’s my senior year and it’s nice to go out a winner. You can’t be ashamed of losing by one game. But I love my team. Everyone tried their hardest and that’s all you can ask.”

But Weiss couldn’t help but blame herself after winning only one game against Katey Becker in her final set.

“In my match [against Becker], my mental toughness got weak,” Weiss said. “My quadriceps started cramping and I started dozing off. In a match this close, you can’t help but think that your one set did it.”

Becker said she sensed Weiss wasn’t at her best.

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“I knew she wasn’t focused and I knew I had to take advantage of it right there and not let her back into the match,” Becker said.

Bray didn’t appear to be into her set with Faye DeVera either. She seemed to be going through the motions in an 0-6 loss. Cohen and Zajfen, who won their first two sets, never had a chance against Villa Park’s spirited No. 2 doubles team of Shawna Lerer and Talline Kojian. Lerer and Kojian jumped to a 2-0 lead and their confidence grew with each winner they hit.

“They were more aggressive and they raised their level of play,” Laguna Beach Coach Bob Walton said. “They hit out on every shot.”

Becker also raised her level of play, winning all three of her sets, 6-1, 6-0, 6-2. Becker said her 6-2 victory over Bray, who left for a national indoor tournament before the match ended, was the key to her day.

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“She beat me on Saturday [in the individual sectionals],” Becker said. “I just wanted to go down fighting. After beating Michelle, I gained a lot of confidence.”

Becker said she beat Bray by changing her strategy.

“Saturday, I was hitting shorter and flatter, but I hit a lot more angles and top spin [Tuesday],” she said.

Villa Park (20-0), whose only senior is doubles player Susan Shaw, also needed three points from DeVera at No. 1. As usual, DeVera came through. Ranked No. 2 in Southern California in the girls’ 16 division, DeVera finished with a 54-0 dual match record.

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“This beats winning a junior tournament--the glory of it and all,” she said. “It’s a team thing and everybody did their part.”

Including Villa Park’s No. 1 doubles team of Shaw and Amy Chien. Though they didn’t win a set, their 7-6 (7-5) loss to Laguna Beach’s No. 3 team of Katrina Jessoe and Kim Allen gave Villa Park enough points for the victory.

Afterward, Becker tried to sort it all out.

“It hasn’t sunk in,” she said. “It didn’t sink in that we were in the CIF finals until we got here. But once we were here, we were ready. It was our moment. They won it the last three years. It was just our turn to win.”

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