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Campbell Hall’s Rise Isn’t Half-Baked : Region’s Surprise Tennis Team Pursues the Elusive Bagel

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Campbell Hall boys’ tennis team had just routed Buckley, 16-2, in a Delphic League match Tuesday at the Racquet Centre, but the Vikings were disappointed and their hunger pangs were more severe than usual.

Campbell Hall didn’t get the 18-0 victory it was looking for, which meant the players would have to buy their own post-match bagels.

Whenever they score a “bagel"--tennis slang for a shutout--the Vikings are rolling in dough.

Team manager Daniela Decca rushes over to a local kosher bakery and returns to the courts with two dozen bagels.

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Fortunately for Coach Steve Kuchel, who picks up the tab, the Vikings are staying lean and mean while getting fat in the victory column.

The Vikings (12-0) have shut out only one opponent, but they’ll take their No. 3 ranking in Southern Section Division IV over a bag of baked goods any day.

Campbell Hall, 3-0 in Delphic League play, is the region’s surprise team after recent upsets of perennial powers Calabasas, Brentwood and Santa Ynez.

Most impressive was an 11-7 victory over league rival Brentwood, which has won 14 consecutive Delphic League championships and three Division III titles in a row.

Second-place Brentwood had not lost a league match in 10 years when it was ambushed in the Valley on March 21.

The teams will meet again May 6 at Brentwood in a match that figures to determine whether Campbell Hall will win the league title outright or share it.

“I knew we’d be good, but I’m surprised at their confidence and their attitude,” Kuchel said. “All these kids want to win.”

Kuchel, who started the program when the former all-girls school went coed 14 years ago, doesn’t need Pavlovian tricks to motivate his players.

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Winning, not bagels, was on minds of the Vikings three weeks ago when they slugged it out with Calabasas, a seven-time section champion. Keying the 10-8 victory was the No. 2 doubles team of Mike Presto and Nick Nadjarian--a tandem Kuchel describes as streaky. The pair got hot and swept three sets, including a 6-1 victory against the Coyotes’ No. 1 doubles team.

“Unbelievable,” Kuchel said. “Phenomenal.”

But Campbell Hall’s success is not surprising, perhaps because of Kuchel. A 16-year teaching pro, Kuchel has honed the skills of each of his players, who also have become mentally tough competitors.

Nearly all of them are patient and savvy, traits rarely found on a team with no seniors.

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“They have pride,” Kuchel said. “They have great team chemistry.”

Personalities vary from outspoken No. 1 doubles player Josh Glass to quiet No. 1 singles player Adam Zunder.

Glass, a junior, is the school’s best basketball player. He averaged 14 points, seven assists and three steals and was the only non-Crossroads player to earn first-team, all-Delphic League honors.

Justin Castillo, a junior who moved from Jacksonville, Fla., two years ago, is a standout football and soccer player who was leaning toward playing baseball before Kuchel sold him on tennis. Castillo plays No. 3 doubles.

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Zunder, a 14-year-old freshman, has been a top-ranked junior player for five years. He transferred from Oakwood because the Gorillas have no tennis program and three of his friends were on the team at Campbell Hall.

They’ve come together knowing this year and next will be the Vikings’ best chances to win a league title and make a run in the playoffs, where they’ve never advanced past the second round.

“It’s a trust, an unexplainable trust, that everybody’s going to give it their all,” said Glass, who is team co-captain with doubles partner James Chun.

“I want to win the whole thing,” Glass said. “But my goals are usually higher than everybody else’s.”

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The Vikings’ success and camaraderie and the influential Kuchel have changed the outlook of many players.

Glass, a gym rat, now hopes to play basketball and tennis at an Ivy League college.

Zunder wasn’t planning to add team tennis to an already demanding daily schedule, which includes school and homework, matches or practices with the Vikings and additional tennis workouts with a private coach.

“Once I started practicing, I had a lot of fun,” Zunder said. “It’s been worth it so far.”

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Castillo could be lifting weights or playing baseball, a sport in which he was an eight-time youth league all-star.

“I like the challenge [of tennis],” Castillo said. "[Kuchel] made me realize I could take this game to a new level.”

Kuchel has had good teams in his 14 years at Campbell Hall, including six that finished second in league play. But Zunder is the marquee talent the small North Hollywood school (enrollment 225) has been lacking.

“It’s my turn to get one of those players,” Kuchel said. "[Without Zunder], we would have three losses.”

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And no cream cheese on their bagels.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Who Are These Guys?

Looking at Campbell Hall High’s tennis lineup, it is hard to find a weak link. Here’s how the Vikings stack up:

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* No. 1 singles: Adam Zunder (25-2)--The left-hander is a great tactician who mixes his shots to keep opponents on the run. He volleys well and plays the net aggressively.

Zunder’s only losses were to Calabasas’ Nick Weiss, a potential national age-group champion, and Brentwood’s Gabe Goldstein, 10-8, in a tiebreaker.

* No. 2 singles: Shaunt Vanerian (25-8)--With a blistering forehand, the sophomore is the Vikings’ hardest hitter. He’s battling back problems, which force him to occasionally serve underhanded.

Said Coach Steve Kuchel: “He could be as good as [Zunder] if he works a little harder. Adam’s a little stronger, mentally.”

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* No. 3 singles: Ryan King (15-12)--Don’t let the mediocre record fool you. King is a skilled finesse player who keeps the ball in play and unnerves opponents. His victories include a 90-minute marathon set to a “golden set,” in which he didn’t allow a point.

Said Kuchel: “I’ve heard players walk off saying, ‘I can’t believe I lost to that guy.’ ”

* No. 1 doubles: Josh Glass and James Chun (32-1)--The juniors have been best friends since elementary school. They are the team’s backbone, overwhelming opponents with their aggressive play. Chun played No. 1 singles last year.

* No. 2 doubles: Mike Presto and Nick Nadjarian (16-2)--Presto, a junior, played No. 3 singles last year. He’s 6-foot-1 and has a big serve. Nadjarian, a sophomore, is an experienced doubles player who was No. 1 on the junior varsity ladder last season.

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* No. 3 doubles: Justin Castillo and Daniel Abrams (20-13)--The juniors tend to be slow starters but they can inflict damage when they get rolling. They earned first-team, all-league honors last year. Castillo can be explosive. Abrams is very steady.


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