PASADENA — Although better known for their past singles exploits, Crescenta Valley High tennis players Sarah Ali and Karen Ataian earned a different claim to fame on Wednesday at Pasadena High — Pacific League doubles champions.
Ali, a former All-Area Singles Player of the Year, was moved to doubles this season for the first time in her career as she recovered from a shoulder injury. Ataian had even less doubles experience, as she was called on to fill in for Ali's partner, Talia Moradkhanian, just before the league prelims on Monday after Moradkhanian's family home was damaged by a fire.
But the two looked quite comfortable on the court together Wednesday, beating Arcadia's Annie Tung and Caroline Young, 6-2, 6-3, to win the championship and earning qualification for the CIF Sectionals on Nov. 19 in the process.
"[They're] a strong team, my only fear was maybe they weren't playing doubles," Falcons Coach Sarah Wiggins said. "But they seemed to work well, they communicated, I saw them use signals, they were talking to each other. Very nice showing. …We'll work a little more on their doubles play and hopefully they can get far [in CIF]."
After defeating Burbank's Meredy Gharabegi and Ashley Basco, 6-1, 6-0, in the semifinal round, Ali and Ataian quickly went up 4-1 in the first set against Tung and Young, the Apaches No. 2 tandem, who upset their No. 1 teammates Michelle Zhu and Elizabeth Lieu, 6-2, 6-2, to reach the finals.
The second set began much the same way, with Ali and Ataian racing out to a 3-0 lead and then going up, 4-1. But then Tung and Young made a surge to get within 4-3.
"I think we just lost our concentration," Ali said. "We just had to be on our toes and get it back."
Said Ataian: "We just had to finish it. [A third set] would have been tiring in this heat."
Ali came up with an overhand smash and a slicing backhand at the net to put away the next game for a 5-3 lead and had three more winners in the clinching game.
"[Doubles] is actually a lot more fun," Ali said. "It's just more fun, more active, more intense. I like it."
On the singles side, 2008 singles champion Erin LeVoir of Crescenta Valley made it back to the finals and qualified for the Sectionals with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Arcadia's Nadia Pacheco in the semis, but in the finals was stopped for the second year in a row by Arcadia's Francis Dean, who beat LeVoir in last year's semis.
"Erin was focused on the first match," Wiggins said. "Her goal was to make it to the Sectionals. She split with Nadia over the season, so she knew it could go either way."
Dean was in complete control of the first set, winning, 6-1, as LeVoir seemed to be feeling the effects of the heat.
The second set saw Dean zeroing in for the kill after going up, 3-0, but LeVoir wouldn't be retired easily.
After creeping back to within 3-2, LeVoir was a point away from holding serve and tying the set at 3, but Dean rallied to go up 4-2 instead. LeVoir was able to hold her serve the next time around and make it 5-3, but Dean put it away for a 6-3 win in the next game.
"I knew it was my last Pacific League match ever and, I don't know, I was having fun out there," LeVoir said. "It's my last match, I might as well go all out. I didn't feel pressure. It was fun."
Crescenta Valley's Emily Borkowski lost to Dean, 6-3, 6-3, in the semis, but came back to post a convincing 8-1 win over Pacheco to secure third place. She will be an alternate for the Sectionals if Dean or LeVoir is unable to participate.