Shelley Breeden must have felt like the victim of a cruel joke. For four seasons she was the No. 1 singles player on the Hoover High tennis team, but not once had she advanced to the Southern Section playoffs.
Last season as a freshman at Glendale College, she again played in the No. 1 position, losing only two Western State Conference matches. But just a week before the WSC tournament, she suffered a sprained ankle. Although Breeden was the tournament's top-seeded player, she was forced to forfeit her quarterfinal match because of the injury. The following week, in the Southern California regional, Breeden failed to qualify for the state tournament.
But Breeden no longer feels like she's the punch line. This season, the joke is on her opponents.
Breeden has lost only one singles match this season and is the top-seeded player in the Southern California regional playoff, which begins today at Ventura College.
Saturday at Santa Barbara City College, she captured the WSC singles and doubles titles. Breeden avenged an earlier loss to Ventura's Hadley Rick with a victory in the final, 6-3, 6-1, then teamed with Jennifer Schmidt to defeat Rick and Suzanne Woodling in the doubles final, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Throughout her career Breeden has felt self-induced pressure to succeed.
"She is probably her hardest critic," Glendale Coach Terry Coblentz said. "The team pressure wasn't really there. She expects a lot and she's certainly gotten a lot out of it."
Breeden's game has changed considerably the past two seasons, Coblentz said. Breeden preferred to play more of a baseline game in high school, pounding out a seemingly endless string of ground strokes. But playing against a higher level of competition has forced Breeden to develop her serve-and-volley game. She has done so grudgingly, still preferring singles over doubles because it allows her to utilize her baseline game.
"I can come in and be a little bit more aggressive now," Breeden said. "I still like singles better because I can be myself. In singles I can stay back and play and do what I have to do to win."
And for the 5-foot, 5-inch, 120-pound sophomore, winning is a team function.
"I've always been into the team aspect," Breeden said. "I know that my individual performance is important because my points in singles and doubles help the team."
Coblentz said that she had expected Breeden to be one of the team's top players but was somewhat surprised by how easily Breeden has handled her opponents. Coblentz credits Breeden's success to a newly developed patience and ability.
"She is very adaptable," Coblentz said. "She has a very large arsenal of shots. If one thing isn't working, she can try something else.
"She has developed her patience well."
Breeden lost her initial match to Rick in what Coblentz characterized as "a slug-out."
But Breeden learned her lesson, taking a more low-key approach and sweeping Rick in two sets in the rematch.
"She had to be patient to beat her," Coblentz said. "She has learned to keep control and change the pace of the game."