Things went rapidly at the end, a season-long quest for the Fountain Valley High boys’ tennis team being delivered by one quick serve by senior Justin Pham.
Pham’s ace secured the clinching 10th set for the No. 3-seeded Barons in Friday afternoon’s CIF Southern Section Division 2 title match against No. 1 Temecula Great Oak. What occured next at the Claremont Club was pure adulation, with coach Harshul Patel leaping into the arms of senior Tommy Trinh, Pham’s doubles partner, in celebration.
Patel held on tight, and the eighth-year coach did not let go for a number of seconds. This was a moment in time that he and the Barons could cherish.
“He’s a lot heavier than I thought he was,” Trinh said. “A little weird, but it’s all cool. I understand why he did that.”
So did Pham.
“It was [Patel’s] moment,” Pham said.
Really, it was the Barons’ moment. They were on the big stage for the first time, making their first CIF finals appearance in program history. They delivered an 11-7 win.
Patel wasn’t the only Baron who celebrated wildly after Trinh and Pham finished a sweep of their three sets, beating Great Oak’s John Burdick-Ruiz and Martin Arabshahi 6-2.
It was a grand finish to a historic year for the Barons (20-3), who not only won CIF for the first time but also captured their first outright Sunset League title since 1991.
Each of the three singles players and doubles teams won at least once in the final as Fountain Valley handed Great Oak (23-1), which was also making its first CIF finals appearance, its first loss of the season.
Junior Justin Nguyen won twice at No. 1 singles, while sophomore Ryan Trinh won once at No. 2 singles for the winners. Freshman Ben Nguyen also won twice, including a key 6-3 victory in the second round over Great Oak’s top player, Steven Howe.
“That was a turnaround,” Patel said. “That was the match for us, right there.”
Overall, the Barons dominated the second round after the match was tied 3-3 after the first. Fountain Valley won five sets in the second round for an 8-4 lead. Patel said he was confident after that, with the Barons’ No. 1s in singles and doubles playing against the Great Oak No. 3s in the final round.
After Justin Nguyen quickly dispatched Kian Anwar in the third round for the ninth set win, Trinh and Pham came through again as they did all season. They did not lose a set in dual match play all year.
“After the first round, we were pretty scared and nervous,” Justin Nguyen said. “After the second round, we got more comfortable with ourselves. We just got confident.”
Senior Brandon Keller and junior Vivek Savsani won twice at No. 2 doubles, while senior captain Eric Tadros and freshman Kai Rodriguez won once at No. 3 doubles.
“I knew going into this year that we had an amazing chance [to win CIF], from the very first day, but I kept it to myself,” Patel said. “You’re always doing the homework, you’re always talking to coaches. We knew that our lineup was rock solid.
“Each of these kids, they fought for me. They fought for our team. They fought for our school. That’s surreal, and that’s what brings the tears in, the emotion. There’s no holding it in. It’s love.”
The Barons also felt the love from their school on Friday morning. Savsani said as the team walked through the school and prepared to board the bus for Claremont, a couple hundred of their fellow students came out to cheer for them and send them off.
“We couldn’t say anything after that,” Savsani said. “That was just amazing.”
Kind of like the Barons’ season.