La Canada girls' tennis stymied by Valencia

VALENCIA — Having emerged from the Rio Hondo League and having faced San Marino High on two occasions, La Cañada’s girls’ tennis team was certainly familiar with the best that CIF Southern Section Division II has to offer.

But familiarity did little to assist the Spartans against a powerful Valencia squad on Wednesday afternoon in the first round of the Division II playoffs.

The Vikings, a perennial power in Division II, cruised past the visiting Spartans, 16-2, after sweeping through the first two rounds of play and winning all nine doubles sets.

“We knew how good they were. We were actually hoping to get a wild-card match because we’d have a more winnable matchup,” said Spartans Coach Will Moravec, whose team ended its season at 10-6 after a 6-2 second-place run through the Rio Hondo League. “It’s where we expected to be.”

Valencia, which improved to 20-4, took second place in the formidable Foothill League, but clearly being second-place finishers was one of the few similarities the teams shared.

“We just don’t have the firepower they do,” Moravec said. “They’ve got that knockout punch.”

That knockout punch came in the form of No. 1 singles player Brigitta Benitez, who lost one game in singles before giving way to a substitute, who lost to La Cañada No. 2 Sharon Kim, 6-3. But Benitez wasn’t the only knockout punch, as Valencia’s doubles squads were flat out dominant, relinquishing just 15 games in winning all nine sets.

“I was just trying to hit every shot,” said Kim of her mindset, adding that the Vikings as a whole were a very consistent and fundamental team. “I’m glad that at least we got a couple points.

“Valencia’s very consistent and you have to prepare for every shot. It was a good challenge.”

Spartans No. 1 singles player Sawa Keymuelen notched her team’s other victory, taking a 6-4 win.

“I guess it’s kind of a satisfactory season, but there’s room for improvement,” Keymuelen said. “We’re excited about next year.”

San Marino, seeded No. 1 in the division, defeated the Spartans by scores of 18-0 and 17-1, but also defeated Valencia, 14-4, this season. While the latter score might have been evidence of just how dominant the Rio Hondo League champions are it wasn’t a preview of how close a Vikings-Spartans matchup could be. In fact, the teams were supposed to play in nonleague action, but rain put a halt to it. Not before the teams played a few sets, though, and the Vikings won them all, Moravec said.

“I knew it was gonna be a really, really tough match, but I had hopes,” said senior captain Alison Chang. “Valencia’s known to be this good, so we had it coming. Just bad luck [to play them in the] first round of CIF.”

Spartans substitute Emily Matsuka lost, 6-4, while Kim and the doubles squads of Emily Swanson and Serena Zheng and Lynn Gilmour and Ana Dewar had 6-3 set losses for the closest defeats of the afternoon.

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