BOOKENDS FOR A BOOKWORM
Victories and straight A’s are nothing new for Darren Joe.
He has been stringing both together for four years as a top-shelf scholar-athlete at Westlake High.
With a 4.0 grade-point average, the Warriors’ valedictorian was near perfect on the tennis court as well, losing only one of 45 sets during Westlake’s 20-1 season.
Joe, who will play tennis for Princeton next season, is The Times’ regional player of the year for the second time in as many years.
As he has done for most of his life, Joe mixed equal parts of academics and tennis and came out a winner in both.
“It was definitely equal,” Joe said. “Maybe a little more on the book side though.
“With an education, so many doors open for you. With tennis, which I have a passion for, that’s a one-way road. You either make it or you don’t.
“I always felt if I spent more time playing or practicing, I’d probably be a lot better. But I think that sacrifice has been better for me in the long run. I think I made the right choice.”
Joe, No. 1 singles player for Westlake since his freshman year, is ranked No. 15 in the Southern California Tennis Assn. 18-and-under division and is 93-3 in the last two high school seasons.
Joe suffered only one disappointment this season.
It came against the one of the top players in the country when Westlake lost to Beverly Hills, 10-8, in the Southern Section Division II final.
Joe lost to Jose Lieberman, who has hovered around the No. 10 spot in national rankings, 6-0.
“I would have liked to go out with a championship for the team, but things don’t always work out the way you want them to,” he said.
Joe’s string of 42 consecutive victories weren’t without drama. More than once, Joe had to come from behind.
In the playoffs, Joe and Ben Martin of Burbank were tied, 4-4, before Joe broke Martin’s serve and held serve for a 6-4 victory. In the semifinals, Joe fought off two set points and a 5-4 deficit to defeat Eric Bachelor of Mission Viejo, 7-5.
“When my back’s against the wall, I play better for some reason,” Joe said. “When it’s a tight match and I’m getting nervous and my arms are getting shaky, it’s more of who wants it more, not whose strokes are better. Somehow I manage to gut them out.”
Watching Joe in crucial matches this season has only solidified Coach Grant Calkins’ belief in his top player.
“You can maybe push him to the edge of the cliff, but he’s the hardest guy in the world to push over,” Calkins said.
Although Joe is moving on to college, he’s taking his success formula with him.
“I’m going to see where tennis takes me,” Joe said.
“If I don’t get where I want to go, I’ll always have an education behind me.”
* ALL-REGION HONORS: The Times selects the boys’ tennis all-region first and second teams. For thumbnails on each player honored: C9
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THE TIMES ALL-REGION BOYS’ TENNIS TEAM
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Went 44-1 to help Warriors (20-1) reach Southern Section Division II championship match, where his string of victories ended at 42 with a loss to Jose Lieberman of Beverly Hills.
Channel League singles champion upset second-seeded Ryan Moore of Servite in straight sets in first round of Southern Section individual championships. Is headed to San Luis Obispo on scholarship.
Foothill League singles champion is an exchange student from Germany who led Burbank to its 11th consecutive Foothill League title and finished 54-4.
Thousand Oaks, Fr.
Marmonte League singles champion was one of only two players in region to advance to the quarterfinals of Southern Section individual championships. Had 59-12 record.
Kevin Bezonsky, Senior
Brian Bezonsky, Senior
Mission League doubles champions were 17-1 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Southern Section individual championships. Kevin was the Wolverines’ No. 1 singles players and his brother regularly teamed with Brent Iloulian on the squad’s No. 1 doubles team.
Derrick Goldie, Senior
Chris Worthington, So.
Winning 45 of 48 sets, No. 1 doubles team led Spartans to a Channel League title and an 18-2 record. Lost to Bezonskys in the second round of playoffs.
Oak Park, Junior
Has won consecutive Tri-Valley League singles titles, finished 36-3 and advanced to the Southern Section individual championships.
St. Bonaventure, Junior
The SCTA’s sixth-ranked player in 16s led Seraphs to their first Tri-Valley League title, winning 44 of 48 sets.
Pacific League champion finished 49-2, including 30-0 in league play, and is headed to the Air Force Academy.
Matt Weiss, Senior
Deepu Murthy, Senior
Weiss and Murthy, who split time between singles and doubles, were 12-1 as a doubles team and finished third in City Section doubles championships. Weiss finished 11-1 and Murthy was 10-1 in singles.
Steve Moses, Senior
Amir Nejad, Senior
Potent combination was among Marmonte League’s finest, going undefeated in 30 league sets before Nejad was moved to singles to fill the void left by Ryan Heinberg, who quit the team.