Burbank girls' tennis pulls off upset of No. 2 Arcadia

ARCADIA — Burbank High freshman girls' tennis player Nicole Merrit had no idea the importance of her third set Tuesday against Arcadia.

Her opponent, Sharlene Song, did.

With the Bulldogs holding a one-set lead heading into the final set of the day, Song walked off the court against Merritt and approached her coach about retiring because of an aching back. But Song was told that if she couldn't continue and had to forfeit, Burbank would win the match.

Although she was unaware, all Merrit had to do was win four games in the final set and the Bulldogs would secure the match on games, even if she eventually fell to Song.

When Merrit tied the set at 4, and the win was already in hand, she was taken off the court and the Burbank freshman was credited with a 6-4 win that gave the Bulldogs a 10-8 victory on the road.

"I had no idea," Merrit said about the gravity of her final set. "When she just walked off the court after it was tied 4-4 I didn't know what was happening. But I was pretty happy when I found out why."

The victory was one of the biggest in recent Burbank (3-1, 2-0 in league) history. That's because Arcadia (4-1, 2-1) is the defending league champion and came into the contest ranked No. 2 in the latest CIF Southern Section Division II poll behind San Marino.

The Bulldogs, unranked in the division, finished runner-up to the Apaches last season.

"You know only Arcadia and [Crescenta Valley] have won tennis championships in the Pacific League," said Burbank Coach Loi Phan, whose team last won a title in 2002, coming in the Foothill League. "The win for us against them is huge, especially being able to win at their place."

Realizing the match against Arcadia could help largely determine this season's league champion, Burbank players said they were nervous coming into the contest.

"Honestly, I was really nervous in the beginning," Burbank doubles player Elizabeth Sanchez said. "We knew that this was the first time in a long time that we actually had a chance to beat them. And we really wanted to win. We hate being pushed around by them and we don't want to finish behind them like last year."

Phan shuffled around his lineup to try to win sets against an Apaches team that boasted a strong singles contingent. The biggest change was teaming singles player Meredy Gharabegi with Sanchez for a potent doubles team. The tandem didn't disappoint, sweeping its sets, 6-1, 6-3, 6-1.

"We really play well together," Gharabegi said. "If we had a little more time to practice together we would make an awesome team."

The only other sweep on the day for the Bulldogs was turned in by No. 1 singles player Lilit Vardanyan, who posted 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 scores.

Things didn't look promising for Burbank after the first of three rounds, as just Vardanyan and Gharabegi and Sanchez were able to notch wins, as the Bulldogs quickly found themselves behind, 4-2.

But the Bulldogs battled back and were able to tie the score at 6 heading into the final round.

Merrit won one other set, 6-1, and the doubles team of Veronica Mendoza and Gabrielle Markari took two, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6).

"Today I was just trying to see how things go, so hopefully I can adjust things the next time we play them," Phan said. "But the girls came through."

The teams will square off in a rematch Oct. 10 at Burbank.

"I told the girls we are only half way there with this win," Phan said. "We need to play well when they come to our place and play them. We have to keep our focus.

"We feel more comfortable playing them at home. This is the first time ever that we played well at Arcadia. They usually play very good at home."

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