World of difference

While striving to improve, Vinni Lodolo needed to make adjustments on the fly.

Some have been more difficult than others, but it’s something that he couldn’t ignore to help give him an edge against the competition.

In the case of the standout junior St. Francis boys’ tennis player, he realized that some changes — minor and major — needed to be made to fine tune his game to make him a more complete player, able to return forehand shots and demonstrate a powerful serve.

Looking back over the last year, things have gotten steadily better for Lodolo, who captured his first individual Mission League championship May 7 and will now participate for the first time in the CIF Individuals in the Cate Regional bracket at 9 a.m. Friday at The Cate School in Carpinteria.

Lodolo (55-2 this season) had no problems making the proper changes, which included the mental and physical aspects of his game.

“If I wanted to get better, I knew I had to go back and work on fundamentals,” said Lodolo, who grabbed the league title when he posted a 6-3, 3-6, 10-4 victory against Matt Wagner of Harvard-Westlake at the Studio City Tennis Center. “I think last year I had a sort of mindset in which I had problems with my confidence.

“I knew that I had to be a bit smarter in being able to play my game. I knew that I had to lift more weights.”

In comparing and contrasting his game, it’s been a world of difference for Lodolo.

There’s more spring in his legs when he attacks the net. There’s more power in his forehand and backhand shots, in addition to his arching serve.

Since making the necessary alterations, things have gotten better for Lodolo.

Yes, he’s disappointed that St. Francis finished 10-7 and 6-6 in league for fourth place. The top three teams from the competitive Mission League qualified for the postseason, but the Golden Knights finished just below the cutoff line for advancement.

However, Lodolo knew he would be participating in the league individual finals and looked forward to possibly snapping an incredible streak. A Harvard-Westlake athlete had won the tournament title every year since 1998.

“It’s disappointing that St. Francis didn’t move on, but at least we will have eight seniors coming back who can all make the team even better,” said Lodolo, who registered a 6-1, 6-0 semifinal victory against Andrew Berman of Harvard-Westlake in the league tourney. “[In the league individual tournament,] I knew that I had to play my game.

“That meant by going on offense and being smart to be able to wait for a short ball that I knew I could win. You play a lot of these guys during the season, and you know all of the different types of situations you can face.

“It was a goal of mine to win league because I knew that anybody from Harvard-Westlake would be tough. The singles rounds are so tough.”

Veteran St. Francis Coach Ron Zambrano, who serves as the professional at Fremont Tennis Center in Glendale, said Lodolo found ways to quickly wear down his opponents.

Those tendencies seemed to work throughout the season.

“He’s twice as strong as last year physically,” said Zambrano, who also coaches the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy tennis program. “He’s been able to grind his way back to win matches.

“He’s been able to figure it out, and he’s been hitting the ball beautifully. It was awesome for him to win league.”

There’s plenty of credit to go around involving Lodolo’s improvement.

Lodolo opted to switch private instructors, hiring Hratchia Sargsyan about a year ago.

Sargsyan, a professional at Flint Canyon Tennis Club in La Cañada Flintridge, said a few things needed to be corrected in Lodolo’s game.

“When he came to me, I told him and his father that I would try my best to help him improve, but that I would make no promises,” Sargsyan said. “I know Vinni from way back and I could see that it’s mainly footwork that needed to be changed around.

“His forehand stroke wasn’t working and he was heavier on his feet. We changed his serve a little bit and worked a lot on volleying. He’s really been able to pick up his game.”

Lodolo credited Sargsyan with helping improve his game and instilling confidence that he can compete with the best.

“He fixed a lot of things that you sometimes forget about,” Lodolo said. “I’ve played in tournaments year round and I can see the improvement.

“It will be my first appearance in CIF. Hopefully, I get a good draw and can go deep.”

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