It wasn’t unusual this season to see opposing teams essentially raise the white flag when it came time to compete against the San Marino High girls’ tennis singles.
Some teams pulled their top individual players and paired them in doubles, hoping that would help them fare better against the Titans. But San Marino countered with a winning partnership by pairing sophomore Vivian Le and junior Larissa Phillips.
Together, they swept doubles competition en route to the Rio Hondo League crown and helped the Titans reach the CIF Southern Section Division II semifinals in team competition. For their dominance this season, they were voted All-Area Girls’ Doubles Team of the Year by the sports writers and editors of the Pasadena Sun, Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun.
“Vivian and Larissa were a fantastic team this year,” San Marino Coach John Christopher said. “They were very determined. They were a fantastic combination of offense and defense. Larissa hit such a big ball and Vivian was just unbelievable. I’m really proud of them.”
Le began the season third in the lineup behind Sarah Gealer, who won the league’s singles championship, and Dorothy Tang, the runner-up. Phillips also started in singles, despite her interest in playing doubles.
But as the season progressed, the Titans’ dominance — particularly in singles — forced opposing schools to rearrange their strategy. That’s when the Le-Phillips pairing was born.
“I think the coaches saw that we worked well together,” Phillips said. “I think we definitely do feed off each other’s personality and get each other excited.
It’s different being with a partner. Communication is key. But it also allowed me to feel a little more secure, knowing my partner can always lift me up.”
Feeding off one another taught the two to work in unison.
Described as an “aggressive player” and “cheerleader” of sorts, Le helped pump up the more mild-mannered Phillips.
In turn, Phillips taught Le patience and working alongside a new partner.
“It was a tough transition because it was hard not having my sister there,” Le said. “She was mentor and someone I could always count on.
“But, through this, I learned that it’s really important to compromise and pump each other up — to have that energy on the court and reproduce it with every match. Sometimes it’s hard to have that energy because we’re coming after school and we’re tired, but that’s what helps push you through.”
For Phillips, that meant shouting or doing anything to motivate the other.
“I just feel like when we’re both pumped, we can play better and go for our shots,” Phillips said. “We do this weird thing where we jump together and make noises — it’s pretty weird, but it works.”
It worked for the Titans, too, as San Marino became the first Rio Hondo League team in recent memory to sweep both first and second place in singles and doubles.
“Even though she’s not that tall, Vivian’s quick and aggressive and she attacks. And Larissa serves strong and that leads to weak returns for Vivian to hit,” said Mike Gealer, a volunteer assistant coach. “They communicated so well with each other and they improved their doubles strategy as they kept playing.”
Through nonleague and league play, the duo amassed a 37-4 record heading into the Division II playoffs.
In the opening round, they propelled San Marino to a 16-2 win over Trabuco Hills. Yet, the tandem wasn’t entirely satisfied with their performance after posting 6-0 and 6-2 wins in their two sets.
“They said, ‘We want to redeem ourselves [after a 6-2 mark]. We just lost two games,” Christopher said at the time. “I said, ‘OK, whatever. You guys are really good. We got to let the younger players practice a little more.’”
That urge for perfection helped carry the Titans all the way to the semifinals, where they fell short at home to Newport Harbor, 11-7, ending San Marino’s (22-4) bid for a third straight CIF divisional title.
Two weeks later, however, the duo competed in the CIF Individuals Tournament at the Seal Beach Tennis Club. There, they advanced to the Round of 16 matches before losing to Irvine University’s Nassim Radmehr and Danielle Pham, 6-1, 6-0.
Even though they came up short in the end, it did little to dampen their overall perception of the season.
“I thought everything turned out well,” Phillips said. “I feel our team had a close bond this year and everyone was part of the group.”
“When you’re with a group of friends that you like to be around,” Le added, “that motivates you to be a better player and go out there and give it your all.”