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Tough Act to Follow for Woodbridge

May 28, 1996|CHRIS FOSTER

There will be a change in the formality at the Southern Section Division I boys' tennis championship today. For the first time since 1987, there will be no coronation for Santa Barbara.

Woodbridge ended that reign Thursday, beating the Dons at what has been their own game. Now the title is there for the Warriors to take. The difficult part is behind them.

Or does it lie ahead?

By beating eight-time defending champion Santa Barbara--a seemingly impossible task--they might have created a tougher chore.

Put simply, are the Warriors up to another performance?

When Chase Exon gassed his last shot Thursday, drilling a forehand down the line to win the match's final set, it put the Warriors in today's final against Palos Verdes Peninsula. It was something so unexpected, even the Warriors needed to do a little quick addition to be convinced.

Santa Barbara, after all, had 10 section titles in the last 11 seasons and had smoked Woodbridge, 16-2, in the 1995 semifinals. Anything but a Don victory seemed so improbable, even in hindsight, that the Warriors huddled around Coach Joan Willett to recheck the numbers.

When they discovered their net worth was in the black, that they had advanced on games, 82-81, they let loose a righteous celebration that lasted well into the evening and may still be in progress. You just don't get to be king of the hill that often.

Ah, but having climbed the mountain, will the Warriors see the promised land? They've lost their footing before.

This team was without a care year ago after finishing 21-2. A group that included five freshmen and two sophomores and went undefeated through the Sea View League. It appeared to be the beginning of a good racket, but there were faults.

Jon and Greg Biorkman transferred to University during the summer and led the Trojans past the Warriors in a heated nonleague match.

Ricky Kaplan's family moved, leaving a hole in the singles and doubles rotations.

The gaps became larger when David Lingman, ranked No. 6 in boys' 14 in Southern California, was forced out because of a back ailment.

Exon, the team's No 1 singles player, was still around, but he continued battle his temper almost as much as his opponents.

More than service was being broken and a second-place finish in the Sea View League didn't do much to improve morale. Exon said the team went from believing they could be Southern Section champions to wondering whether they would last past the first round.

But Lingman returned for the playoffs and the Warriors responded by skunking Chino Hills, 18-0. They trailed Beverly Hills, 8-4, entering the final round, but came up winners in five of six sets to advance on games, 84-75.

Which led to Santa Barbara and another pasting, so people thought. Even the Warriors feared another humbling. It was not possible, was it? They had the right answer. After doing the math, Woodbridge had solved the toughest problem . . . and was posed with another. Having been through all that, do they call it quits?

With a long weekend to ponder this, Woodbridge will know today if Santa Barbara was the gem of its season or another steppingstone to a bigger reward. There will be a different Division I champion; the Warriors did make that possible.

The king is dead, long live the king. But does Woodbridge get the crown or the thorns?

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