TPHS girls varsity tennis finishes strong amid challenges

The TPHS varsity girls tennis team defeated Canyon Crest Academy on total games won (76-71) after tying in sets 9-9 in the CIF San Diego Section Open Division team championships on Oct. 28, clinching the title for the 32nd time in TPHS’s history and the first time since 2017. 

Prior to this five-year drought, TPHS won the CIF Open Division title 28 times in a row. So the 2023 team has not only brought back another trophy, but something much more powerful: the formidable legacy of the TPHS girls tennis team. 

“It’s been a long time coming,” Anna Ding (12), one of the four co-captains of the team, said. “We’ve been trying to win it every single year, and I feel so lucky and happy to have finally won, especially in my senior year.”

In the last two years, the team lost in the CIF semifinals. According to co-captain Ava Elleraas (12), this was in part due to a lack of camaraderie and unity overshadowing the team’s talent. 

“[The team] was very separated and a lot of people were not involved,” Elleraas said. 

According to Bruce Taub, the team’s assistant coach, the team’s success this year largely stemmed from a palpable shift in this culture — one that stressed complete dedication and diligence.

“Our four [new] captains all agreed to start the process of building a new culture where everybody [is] committed to the team, with all oars in the water rowing in the same direction,” Taub said. “After academics, the team needed to understand that it had to be their number one extracurricular activity and that if they [committed to] that, they would build a bond that’s different from what we had in years past.”

This bond is exactly what the team built. 

“Everyone this year was very into the team and really wanted to be there, so it was easier to do bonding activities, go to team dinners and it just created a better environment,” Elleraas said. 

Another major factor in the Lady Falcons’ triumphant season was the addition of five new freshmen to the team, each of whom, according to Elleraas, brought immense quality and depth to the roster.

But weaving the freshmen’s talents and characters into the team was paramount, and a responsibility that the group’s seniors took on with great care, according to Head Coach Don Chu.

“The nine seniors took [the freshmen] under their wing and helped them grow up, both as tennis players and as young adults,” Chu said.

Juny Huh (9), one of the five freshmen, said she felt the effects of this support.

“Going into the season, I was expecting just to know [a few] people,” Huh said. “But after [meeting the team], I was friends with every single person, and I didn’t really expect that.”

Still, the team’s victorious season did not come without adversity. 

Throughout the regular season, the girls faced the challenge of having to play each of their matches away, due to the remodeling of the TPHS tennis courts. Even more formidable were the challenges they faced in post-season. A slew of scheduling conflicts in the North County Conference Coastal League individual and San Diego Section CIF team tournaments “made it even more difficult for the girls,” Chu said.

According to Huh, the girls received the Coastal League competition schedule one day prior to the tournament, which explained that all matchplay would be completed within one day. However, on the day of the tournament — after some matches were already completed — the tournament organizers unexpectedly shifted the semifinals and finals matches to the next day. Co-captains Rebecca Kong (12) and Natalia Mochernak (12) were forced to withdraw from the tournament due to prior commitments.

For the players like Elleraas, Ding and Huh that were able to attend the added day, a poorly scheduled starting time prevented them from finishing their final matches before sunset.

“It just ended up being like, ‘Oh, you guys are co-champions. You guys tied for the final,’” Huh said. 

Shortly before the commencement of Coastal League, the team was relayed information from the CIF SDS seeding committee by TPHS Athletic Director Charlenne Falcis-Stevens that they would be first seed moving into team CIFs. The girls were shocked to discover that they were bumped to second seed upon receiving the draws, while their rival, CCA, was placed at seed one.

“When we heard that we weren’t the first seed as we had expected, there was a lot of confusion,” Ding said. “We felt that it had been stolen from us, like we were supposed to have had that draw.”

Even amidst all these difficulties, the team found the resilience to emerge triumphant as a united force.

“[The challenges] created an opportunity for the girls to deal with adversity,” Taub said. “It didn’t feel right at times, but it forced us to galvanize as a group and push forward.”

As the nine seniors of the team take a bow and head off the sparkling stage of their high school careers, trophies in hand, the spotlight is now on the future. 

“I’m very excited for the freshmen to come back [next year]. They will be the nucleus of the team,” Taub said. “They will continue to develop and get better and the team will get better as a result.”

And though they have big shoes to fill and will likely face challenges as the team did this year, Chu believes that this season’s experience was vital in preparing the young players for the years ahead. 

“To do as well as we did with the challenges we faced, it gives the girls and anyone who watched their season this year the hope that we can overcome anything,” Chu said. 

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