Santa Clarita has been a good promoter of tennis, with ten tennis courts available for public use, countless more for private and community use, along with those located in the high schools, some of which are open for public use when the school is not occupying them.
When the high schools are using them, the season is on and the undisputed champions of the Foothill League are the Valencia Vikings, until the 2014 season, where Valencia lost its bid to win the league title for the ninth year in a row to the West Ranch Wildcats. This season, the Wildcats managed to prove it may have been no fluke, as they earned another league title.
Many factors contributed to the shift in the tide on both sides. The Vikings had a stellar 2013 season, winning the Division II title at Clovis in preseason, winning league for the 8th year in a row, and making a run to the quarterfinals at CIF. The Vikings lost 6 seniors that year, with not many prospects to fill the void outside of the returning seniors.
West Ranch received an influx of freshmen for the 2014 season, specifically Noah Morrow and Quincy Waltereze, both of whom had played tournaments prior to joining the varsity team, eager to prove something on their home turf. Aside from their tournament play, the Wildcats also worked hard in the summer and in the off-season, whereas many of Valencia’s returning players didn’t play over the summer or participate in the off-season, some choosing to focus on academics instead.
Valencia also received an influx of freshman, however none at the level of the Wildcats’ freshmen. According to Darrell Peries, the junior varsity coach for Valencia, about 20 kids showed up for tryouts this year, about 6-7 were cut, and no new additions from the tryouts were added to the varsity team.
Throughout the 2014 season, the Wildcats had also bonded well as a team. Kia Areff, a sub for the Wildcats, said “we had a lot of trust in each other,” whereas the Vikings had been suffering from some internal strife, as Chad LeDuff the number one singles player for the Vikings and a junior at the time, recounts that “each individual player had a different vision for our lineup,” he said, “which resulted in the majority of the doubles players being unsatisfied and uncomfortable playing with their partner during the season.”
The 2015 season saw the same outcome, albeit for different reasons. LeDuff, now a senior and again the number one singles players for Valencia, had a different explanation for the loss year, and it was simply the team’s inexperience. “Almost none of our players participate in individual tournaments,” he said, “This rendered our team incapable of handling the high-pressure moments during close matches. Often times we entered the third and final round in a tie or even ahead but we would end up losing the match.”
The Wildcats lost a close match against the top seed in CIF this year, 10-8. At this rate, Peries believes that the Wildcats could go on to win CIF for the next three years.
As West Ranch clenches more titles, odds are that the more experienced players playing tournaments or from the Paseo Club, will be heading to play as a Wildcat, as was the case for the Vikings during its years of dominance. West Ranch had four freshmen leading the charge in doubles and with two seniors graduating, not only are more league titles inevitable, but CIF could be a real possibility. No one knows what the future will hold for both teams, but it looks as if the Wildcats may rule for a few years to come.