La Cañada High girls' tennis just misses upset of San Marino

SAN MARINO — When asked for his thoughts Tuesday afternoon, longtime La Cañada High girls’ tennis Coach Will Moravec answered with different sets of emotions.

On one hand, the CIF Southern Section Division II 10th-ranked Spartans were as competitive as ever versus perennial league champion San Marino, the division’s top-ranked team.

Yet, there was a sinking sense of déjà vu for Moravec as his Spartans fell in a hard-fought affair, 10-8, on the road Tuesday.

“I know that we played better today than we have against San Marino in a long time, but I think we could have won this. I’m just not sure about a moral victory,” said Moravec, whose team lost by a combined score of 35-1 in two matches versus the Titans last season. “This 10-8 score is frustrating because we’re always a match or two away from winning.

“We lost, 10-8, to fourth-ranked Hart; we lost 10-8 to [fifth-ranked] Burbank and [sixth-ranked] Arcadia and now today. It seems like we can play with all these teams. Sooner or later, we’re going to need to be able to beat them.”

Both the Spartans (5-4, 3-2), who lost, 11-7, in the teams’ first meeting, and Titans (8-2, 5-0) reshuffled their lineups due to strategy and other circumstances.

Two such moves had La Cañada junior Ally McKenzie shifted from the No. 1 singles spot to third, while sister Cassie McKenzie, the Spartans’ usual No. 2 singles player, was paired with fellow sophomore Sharyse Watanabe as the Spartans’ second doubles team.

The moves appeared to pay dividends as Ally McKenzie swept her sets, as did Cassie McKenzie and Watanabe, as the match was tied at 6 after two rounds.

Yet, San Marino surged ahead, 8-6, on singles wins from Vivian Le (6-0) and Devon Jack (6-0) and never surrendered a lead, as La Cañada pulled as close as possible, 9-8, after Ally McKenzie rallied from a 5-1 deficit versus Madeline Gandawidjaja in winning, 7-5.

The Spartans were trailing, 67-54, on games before the final set between the Spartans’ doubles duo of Emily Swanson and Serena Zheng and San Marino’s Alihi Kultre and Tammy Lee, which ended up a Titans’ victory, 7-6 (7-0).

“We were missing our No. 1 doubles player, Monique Gandawidjaja, because she missed school and that really hurt us,” said San Marino Coach Melwin Pereira. “Hopefully, this is a lesson for her because she put us in a hole and La Cañada could have beat us. La Cañada is that good and that Ally is amazing.”

Ally McKenzie was both perplexing and dazzling, falling behind to Titans ace Jack, 5-2, before using high-bouncing forehand lobs to rally and win, 7-5.

“I had to get Devon off her mark,” said Ally McKenzie, who won her other set 6-0. “Once I did that I was able to make my move.”

As for falling behind big in two sets, Ally McKenzie responded, “I don’t know what to say. I guess I do better with pressure.”

La Cañada’s most dominant effort came from Watanabe and Cassie McKenzie, who won their sets 6-1, 6-0, 6-0.

Swanson and Zheng delivered the Spartans other two victories by 6-2 scores.

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