Kyle Pham is no longer just a “pusher,” the disparaging term for a tennis player who plays defensive tennis and pushes back each shot.
Pham still could play the defensive game as a senior for the Corona del Mar High boys’ tennis team. What he really was able to do was adapt to his opponent and play smart tennis.
It served Pham well. His third year at the No. 1 singles spot for the Sea Kings ended up leading to some big individual accomplishments.
Pham is the 2019 Daily Pilot Boys’ Tennis Dream Team Player of the Year, earning the honor for the second straight season.
Pham went 35-11 as a senior, including all-tournament team honors at the National High School All-American Tournament and the Surf League singles title. He was undefeated in Sunset Conference play.
He then advanced all the way to the CIF Southern Section Individuals singles title match, becoming the ninth CdM boys’ tennis player to do so. Pham upset top-seeded Brett Brinkman of West Hills Chaminade 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) in the semifinals before falling to No. 2-seeded Ian Freer of La Cañada Flintridge St. Francis 6-2, 6-3 in the championship match.
More than his individual accolades, though, Pham was a leader on a team that was younger than in his previous years. Freshmen Logan Friedman and Max Krykunenko occupied the other two singles spots.
“It was pretty cool,” said Pham, headed for Southern Methodist University. “Obviously, there’s a little pressure playing line one, a little pressure trying to be a team leader and step up for the team a little bit. I think I maybe did a decent job, encouraging the freshmen during matches and stuff to help them fight and play better for the team.
“The team did pretty well this year. We got it together, we made the new lineup work and played some good tennis. We exceeded my expectations a little bit, maybe [coach Jamie Gresh’s] a little bit. I’m pretty proud of the boys this year.”
CdM (14-7) won the Surf League title after earning two tight 10-8 wins over second-place Fountain Valley and advanced to the new CIF Southern Section Open Division, losing 15-3 to top-seeded eventual champion University in the first round.
A coach like Gresh holds his players to high standards, not just in terms of talent, but also sportsmanship. That was another area where Pham always stood tall.
“He always did it the right way, competing with honestly and integrity and great sportsmanship,” Gresh said. “Kyle is a great player on the court, but also has a great character.
“It’s not an easy thing to be the No. 1 guy for three years. In those three years, we were one of the top eight teams [in Division 1 and the Open Division], and him being the No. 1 player on a top-eight team is not easy to do. I just think he kept improving and improving. I’m really happy for him.”
COACH OF THE YEAR
Kenerson, in his first year as head coach, was previously an assistant coach at Sage Hill and served last year as the coach at Tarbut V’Torah. He is no stranger to local tennis with three daughters who have played for Corona del Mar, Paige and Brooke already have graduated and Reece is an incoming junior. Kenerson guided Sage Hill (19-0) to the San Joaquin League title and the CIF Southern Section Division 1 crown. It was the program’s second CIF title, and the Lightning became the first team in Sage Hill history to win a Division 1 title. Kenerson benefitted from three strong singles players in Emin Torlic, Steven Ferry and Rohun Krishnan but he did a lot of his coaching on the doubles side, where Sage Hill often did just enough to advance in CIF.
Sage Hill | Sr.
Torlic, a left-hander with a big serve and forehand, finished off his career at Sage Hill with a CIF Southern Section Division 1 title. Bound for Loyola Marymount, Torlic went 55-3 in singles this season, including a run to the round of 16 at both the prestigious Ojai tournament as well as the CIF Southern Section Individuals, losing to eventual finalist Pham in the latter tournament. A team captain, Torlic also went 14-1 in Sage Hill’s CIF run, only losing to Masato Perera of Santa Barbara San Marcos.
Sage Hill | Sr.
Ferry had played some doubles in previous years, but stuck mostly to singles as a senior. Kenerson said Ferry reaped the rewards of getting into great shape, as finished 53-4 this season, including the San Joaquin League singles championship. Ferry and Rohun Krishnan advanced to the doubles round of 16 at Ojai and Ferry made the singles round of 32 at CIF Southern Section Individuals, earning his spot in Seal Beach with a tough three-set win over Jake Huarte of Mater Dei. Ferry is bound for Chapman University.
Sage Hill | Jr.
Krishnan was the third and final piece of Sage Hill’s dominant singles lineup. He did not play at league finals due to studying for academics, Kenerson said, but he went 51-3 this season for the Lightning. Krishnan and Ferry made the doubles round of 16 at Ojai. Krishnan, a contributor in the singles lineup since he was a freshman, should step into the No. 1 spot next year for the Lightning.
Sebastian Vethan and Daniel Izmirian
Huntington Beach | Sr. and Jr.
Vethan mostly played doubles during the season for the Oilers, while Izmirian played singles. They impressed together in the postseason for Huntington Beach, winning the Surf League doubles title. Vethan and Izmirian finished with a 12-2 record as a team, advancing to the round of 16 at the CIF Southern Section Individuals tournament before losing to the top-seeded team from Palos Verdes. Vethan will play at Westmont College in Santa Barbara next year.
Vivek Savsani and Ben Nguyen
Fountain Valley | Sr. and So.
The Barons were unable to defend last year’s CIF Southern Section Division 2 title in Division 1, as they were upset 11-7 by Claremont in the second round. Savsani and Nguyen had postseason success as a doubles team, though. The Surf League finalists advanced to the CIF Southern Section Individuals round of 16, winning three third-set super-tiebreakers along the way, before losing to the No. 2-seeded team from Harvard-Westlake. Savsani and Nguyen became just the third Fountain Valley doubles team in coach Harshul Patel’s nine-year tenure to make it that far.
Josh Watkins and Prescott Cook
Newport Harbor | Sr. and So.
Watkins and Cook provided a postseason highlight in a rebuilding year for the Sailors with their doubles play, though both played singles during the season. They finished 7-2 as a team, winning the Wave League championship and advanced to the round of 16 at the CIF Southern Section Individuals tournament before losing to a team from Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula. It was a fitting end to a standout career for Watkins, who will play next year at the University of Montana.
Player, School, Year
Justin Nguyen, Fountain Valley, Sr.
Jason You, Edison, So.
Mason Lebby, Laguna Beach, Sr.
Players, School, Years
Robert Gerschultz and Adam Hung, Sage Hill, Sr. and So.
John Dick and Bradley Amor, Corona del Mar, Jr. and So.
Logan Sherouse and Ryan Lum, Edison, Seniors
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