Alisha Portnoy, the No. 1 singles player on the Granada Hills High girls tennis team, couldn't make it to the City Section final on Tuesday against Palisades. So as a good-luck gesture she sent her teammates a huge bouquet of green balloons.
Unfortunately for Granada Hills, those other round, greenish things--the tennis balls--brought nothing but bad luck. Palisades popped the Highlanders' balloon, 6-1, in the City 4-A final at the Racquet Centre in Studio City.
The championship was the third straight for Palisades (17-2), and the team's sixth in eight seasons. Granada Hills (16-3) interrupted the streak, winning in 1982-83.
But what should have been a dream match-up of the City's two pre-eminent teams became a battle of attrition. Palisades lost three players this month because of academic problems, and Portnoy, seeded No. 2 among singles players in the tournament, was competing in a national tournament in New York City.
So instead of two teams sending out their best, both were forced to go with the rest.
The loss of Portnoy forced Highlanders Coach Ann Kennedy to move her singles players up a notch. But even with three ineligible players, Palisades used its experience to offset the Granada Hills shuffle.
"None of our players have really been here before," said Kennedy of his seven sophomores, a junior and two seniors. "Alisha was the only player that really had experience in this type of competition."
Palisades started three seniors and a junior in the singles matches alone.
Portnoy, a sophomore, offered to stay, but the chance to play in the National Indoor Tournament was too much to pass up, Kennedy said, and despite Portnoy's complaint, Kennedy decided to send her to New York.
Palisades won three of four singles matches, and the Dolphin doubles teams swept three matches from the outgunned Highlanders. The only winner for Granada Hills was sophomore Debbie Ferris, who knocked off Andrea Hart, 6-3, 7-6, in the No.-2 singles match. Palisades won the remaining matches in straight sets.
Even though Granada Hills lost six of seven matches, losing the team's top singles player was still prominent in the minds of the team after the loss.
"Not to blame anybody, because any of the rest of us would have gone too, but I think the loss of Alisha played a pretty big part in the match," said Heather Child, one of two seniors on the Granada Hills team. "For everybody in singles to have to move up a spot was a psychological disadvantage for us.
"And then when you bring on a very good team . . ."
Granada Hills sophomore Noel Calderwood, who took over for Portnoy in the singles, lost to Palisades senior Patty Casteneda, 6-4, 6-3.
"Losing a player of her caliber at this time of year was tough to take," Kennedy said. "But that's just one of those breaks you have to take."