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Memories That Help Define the Prep Sports Year

Surprise Excitement

June 11, 1996|DAVE McKIBBEN

Typically, tennis isn't one of the more exciting high school sports to cover. Usually, there is nothing sudden about the way matches end. Since there's no clock, last-second aces or backhand drops shots just aren't possible the way last-minute touchdowns or last-second jump shots are.

And because tennis doesn't have the tradition or recognition of some of the higher profile sports, the best players often opt to play junior tournaments or spend time with a private coach rather than play for their schools.

But this year was different. Most of the top players stayed and many of the matches had more drama and intensity than any high school basketball or football game I saw.

High school tennis has its faults--the matches are often too long, the scoring system could be fairer and the schools with the most money usually dominate.

But it also has its advantages.

High school tennis teaches kids, who have played for themselves most of their lives, the value of playing for a team and playing for a school. It also gives players who aren't talented enough to play junior tennis tournaments the chance to play competitive tennis.

Fittingly, the last boys' tennis match of the season--between Woodbridge and Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Southern Section Division I title--played out like a basketball or football game.

It didn't come down to the last second, but it did come down to the last set, game and point.

Woodbridge led, 9-8, but since it trailed in overall games, it needed another set from its best player, Chase Exon. All season, Exon had battled his temper and it almost got the best of him in this match.

As the pro-Peninsula crowd at the Jack Kramer Club cheered and jeered, Exon began to unravel when his team and his school needed him most. Had Exon been playing a junior tournament, he would have only himself to answer to. But if he blows up in the Division I finals, he loses, his team loses and his school loses.

Exon settled down. Won the tiebreaker, the set, the match and was mobbed by his teammates. Later, Exon and his team got a dip in the Kramer Club's pool for their efforts.

Who says high school tennis isn't exciting?

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