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The Courts of Appeal : Girls' Tennis Team at Laguna Hills Having Fun--and Setting Sights on Title

October 27, 1986|GERALD SCOTT | Times Staff Writer

"L-H-H-S: Go-fight-win!"

That chant from the Laguna Hills High School girls' tennis team pierces the lazy afternoon air at the Vic Braden Tennis Courts at Coto de Caza, heralding the start of the Hawks' recent match against Trabuco Hills.

It also heralds the arrival of Laguna Hills to the status of a county power--the unbeaten Hawks (15-0) were ranked No. 10 in last week's Southern Section 3-A coaches' poll.

And with an 18-0 victory over Trabuco Hills followed by a 14-4 victory over highly regarded Woodbridge last week, it's likely that the Hawks will climb higher in this week's poll.

First-year Coach Jack Hodges, who also coaches the baseball team, inherited a good thing--the Hawks won the South Coast League title last season when they went 16-2 overall--and made it better. Laguna Hills has clinched at least a tie for the Pacific Coast League title and can win it outright with a victory over Costa Mesa Wednesday.

"I took the job because I enjoy the sport so much," Hodges said. "I still play regularly, and sometimes with my mother-in-law, who was the No. 3-ranked woman in U.S. tennis for (women) 70s and over.

"Plus I had some of the girls on the team in my classes and they asked if I would coach. It seemed like a good idea.

"I've coached tennis before, but not on the varsity level," said Hodges, who has coached the junior varsity team and used to be an assistant on the football staff at Laguna Hills. "This is a sharp group to work with. They do really well in the classroom, are competitive on the court and are simply fun to work with.

"It's not all that much different than coaching a boys team, except that maybe on the bus ride to a match things will be looser with the girls. On a football (team) bus, everyone is quiet and serious on the way to a game, but today the girls were either talking about homecoming, or their boyfriends, or doing homework."

Hodges cited three reasons for the Hawks' outstanding season: tradition, conditioning and attitude--something that Hodges saw as keys to success when he played football and baseball at Stanford in the 1960s and later for the Kansas City Royals' farm system in 1969-70.

"By the time we get most of them, at least on the varsity level, they're already tournament hardened from having played on the junior level with all of those tournaments weekend after weekend when they were growing up," Hodges said.

"The only problem I really face as a coach is that sometimes the girls are so used to a certain style or technique taught to them by their pros that when I tell them something, it'll go in one ear and out the other."

Hodges puts a great emphasis on conditioning.

"We concentrate on conditioning more than most of the teams we face," Hodges said. "There are three rounds of six (games each), so if the score is 6-6 going into that crucial last round, our girls usually don't tire out.

"It's when you're tired that you lose your concentration, but we seem to have avoided that."

Hodges makes sure that his players run or jump rope every day.

"I run with them so they can't complain," Hodges said.

They certainly can't complain about their individual records. The Hawks' three singles players have posted impressive records: freshman Jenny Marques is 42-3, junior Kim Wright is 39-3 and junior Mai Nguyen is 38-5.

There are only three seniors on the team--Jenny Todd, Tami Blume and Kellee Luce--but they provide the leadership, according to Hodges.

"That means they complain the least," Hodges said. "But somebody like Kellee Luce is also training to compete in a triathlon after she graduates, so she'll push the others harder during practice."

These seniors have found that being involved in outside activities complements their tennis. Todd and Blume were both on the school's homecoming court during Saturday's football game against Orange. Blume was named homecoming queen.

"Tennis does take up a lot of our time," Todd said, "but we appreciate what he (Hodges) has done for us 100%.

"And he's not kidding about the conditioning--we have to run every day and we also jump rope for 60 seconds at a time, and if anybody blows it (by missing a jump), we have to start all over again. A lot of people on the team have lost weight this year."

Lost weight equals added recognition, though.

The team was warmly received at a fall sports pep rally at the school and Hodges makes sure that the team's scores are announced the next day over the school's public address system.

Maybe the team should get together and let go with its cheer over the P.A. system, although, based on its live version, it might not need any amplification.

"L-H-H-S: Go-Fight-Win!"

These days, at least as far as the tennis team goes, it usually does.

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