LA CRESCENTA — As evening fell upon Crescenta Valley High, the tandem of Emily Borkowski and Jackie Dilanchyan did its best to fight off distraction, tension, controversy and a formidable opponent.
As the duo's set with San Marino's Vivian Le and Michelle Gaudawidiayu played out on center stage under the lights, it overshadowed the doubles set on the court next to it that ultimately decided the match. Borkowski and Dilanchyan rallied for a dramatic win to tie the match, but the games tally had long been decided — along with the match.
San Marino's doubles pairing of Tammy Le and Marsha Chang, due to the Titans' sensational singles bracket, defeated the pairing of Erin Levoir and Viktoriya Shumakova to secure a ninth set victory to clinch a 9-9 (85-62) CIF Southern Section Division II second-round win over the host Falcons on Saturday.
The choice to put the likes of Borkowski and Levoir in the doubles bracket came as Falcons Coach Sarah Wiggins strategized stacking her doubles bracket in the hopes of taking all nine sets, while banking on singles player Karen Ataian to take at least one singles set in the hopes of a 10-8 victory.
"What can I say? It almost worked," said Falcons Coach Sarah Wiggins, who received doubles sweeps from Dilanchyan and Borkowski and Sarah Ali and Talia Moradkhanian. "It came so close. It was working and it worked 'til the final [set]."
Almost the final set to be exact.
Crescenta Valley (14-4) had maintained its plan of action thanks in large part to Levoir and Shumakova winning a nailbiting 7-5 set over Le and Gaudawidiayu. The win tied the match at 8 after the Falcons tandem of Ali and Moradkhanian had prevailed in their final set and cut the lead of San Marino (13-1) to 8-7.
Thus, the consensus became that the match would likely come down to Borkowski and Dilanchyan against Le and Gaudawidiayu, but it was the Levoir/Shumakova-Le/Chang set that inevitably sealed the fate of the Falcons.
"That second [set] was fun," said Levoir, who, along with Shumakova, won their first set, 6-1, before the 7-5 victory and a 1-6 loss to end the day. "After that second one, we had spent so much. By the third one, we had no energy left."
Borkowski and Dilanchyan, despite the match's outcome having been decided, still rallied to finish a 7-5, 7-5, 6-2 sweep.
"I'm especially proud of Emily and Jackie," Wiggins said. "To win that last one, even if it was a moot point, they still had the heart to finish it out."
Ali and Moradkhanian turned in the most impressive Falcons performance, sweeping, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
Ataian did her part, winning a set, 6-2, despite nursing a back injury that was incurred during her 3-6 loss to San Marino No. 1 Dorothy Tang, who she was leading 3-2 in the set before the back injury. Ataian was forced to retire after her second-set win.
San Marino's singles contingent racked up six 6-0 wins and a 6-1 win, as well, thus accounting for the lopsided games score.
"I knew by [stacking doubles] I would risk losing on games," Wiggins said of the strategy which saw San Marino singles stalwarts Tang and Sarah Gealer earn respective sweeps, allowing just three games total.
In addition to the strategy, the match also featured a steady stream of tension.
"The atmosphere was definitely charged," said Levoir, whose season will continue in CIF Individuals, along with the doubles pairing of Ali and Ataian. "We both wanted to get to the third round so bad. Definitely, tensions were high."
Perhaps the best example was Borkowski and Dilanchyan's final set. Though the match had been decided, the set extended the match to three hours and 45 minutes in duration. For a second straight set involving Le and Gaudawidiayu, linesmen were needed after a multitude of disputed line calls. There was also a lengthy delay when one of the San Marino players was hit in the arm by her teammate's serve. The linesman incorporated by San Marino also complained that she could not see well enough to make at least one call and San Marino, at one point, disputed the weight of the tennis balls being used, forcing Crescenta Valley to produce a new can of balls. Earlier in the match, one marked by frequent San Marino coaching dialogues with players, Wiggins was forced to protest the amount of time being taken for the coaching break.
"It added to it," said Wiggins of the tension playing a factor in her team's struggles. "Absolutely."
In the end, though, Wiggins said her strategy was one that gave her squad its best chance to win, but was a risk, nonetheless.
"That was not easy to switch the lineup like that," she said. "That was a lot of pressure on the doubles.
"So close, it almost worked. I'm really proud of them. That's a lot of adjustment in a pressure game, but I did feel it was the only way we could've pulled it out."