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1996 PREP PREVIEW / GIRLS' TENNIS

Becker Inspired by Her Step Out of Villa Park Shadows

September 08, 1996|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VILLA PARK — For two years, Katey Becker was known throughout tennis circles as "that other good player for Villa Park."

Becker had a nice little game but she was no Faye DeVera, the Spartans' No. 1 singles player who has lost only three dual-match sets in three years.

Becker, a junior, said she hasn't minded the cover DeVera, a senior, has provided.

"I like it being in her shadow," Becker said. "It doesn't bother me. I don't mind being No. 2. There's less pressure on me."

But last Nov. 21, Becker knew she could no longer hide behind DeVera. Her team needed her too much. Though she was playing No. 2 singles in the Southern Section Division II team final against Laguna Beach, Becker had to play like a No. 1.

"Katey was always good, but she never had the chance to break through," DeVera said.

Becker broke through against Laguna Beach.

In fact, she actually played better than a No. 1--losing only three games over three sets in Villa Park's upset of three-time defending champion Laguna Beach. DeVera dropped four games in the Spartans' 72-71 victory in games over the Artists.

The biggest breakthrough match for Becker that day was her 6-2 victory over Laguna Beach's No. 1 player Michelle Bray. Bray had dominated Becker three days before in the section individual tournament--winning 6-4, 6-3.

But Becker jumped on Bray early and hit winner after winner past her demoralized opponent.

"That win over Michelle Bray was such a confidence builder," Becker said. "That match was definitely a revenge match for me. Whenever you lose to someone, you want to get them back."

Becker won more than revenge that day.

"It's the best feeling ever to have that kind of high that comes with winning a match like that," she said. "You want to keep feeling it over and over."

She kept that feeling for most of the spring and summer junior tournament season as she reached no worse than the quarterfinals in six designated Southern California Tennis Assn. tournaments. In June, Becker reached the final of the Southern California Sectionals girls' 16 division. Along the way, the unseeded Becker knocked off second-seeded Carrie Olson of San Diego in the second round.

In the final, Becker lost to her doubles partner, Nina Vaughan, in a grueling three-set match that lasted nearly three hours. But Becker had proven her point and she had also jumped into the top 10 of the SCTA rankings.

"The mental part of tennis is knowing you can compete," she said. "I finally realized that you're out there in these tournaments because you're good enough to play. After this summer, I said to myself, 'Maybe I can be here.' "

Becker's junior season of high school tennis was supposed to be a continuation of summer. More big wins, more mental breakthroughs. But Becker's season is on hold while her body goes in for repairs.

She injured her hip while playing doubles with Vaughan in August at the U.S. Tennis Assn. national hardcourts in San Diego.

"I didn't bother me until the next day when I couldn't even lift my leg into the car," Becker said.

Becker's doctor told her she has a hip flexor injury and her physical therapist has told her to stay away from competitive matches for four more weeks. She is hoping to return by the start of Villa Park's league season in October.

Though she cannot run, Becker is hitting with her private coach Will Marino every other day to maintain her timing. Marino, a teaching professional at Ridgeline Racquet Club, has worked with Becker for four years. Each year, he has seen Becker's game and ranking inch upward.

"Two years ago, she was in the 40s [in SCTA rankings]," Marino said. "She broke into the 20s last year and she worked even harder this year to get into the top 10. Her strength is her footwork, and she's so mentally tough."

In tennis terms, Becker is a classic "grinder."

"When a girl comes out to play her, she knows she's going to be out there at least two hours," Marino said. "She says, 'If you want to beat me, you'll have to outhit me.' And that's frustrating for a player. It drains you."

Villa Park Coach Sue Gardiner said she noticed Becker's work ethic the first day she walked onto the court as a freshman.

"It was really hard to tell how far she would go," Gardiner said. "But she worked so hard. You could see she had the mental attitude to be a winner."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Girls' Tennis at a Glance

Top players: Allison Arvizu, Huntington Beach, Sr.; Katey Becker, Villa Park, Jr.; Danielle Brandlin, Los Alamitos, Sr.; Katie Canright, Newport Harbor, Sr.; Sarah Denson, Irvine, Sr.; Faye DeVera, Villa Park, Sr.; Melissa Esmero, Mater Dei, Fr.; Natalie Exon, Woodbridge, Sr.; Holli Freudenberg, El Modena, Sr.; Vanessa Godbey, Newport Harbor, Sr.; Nichole Kojima, Calvary Chapel, Sr.; Caylan Leslie, Corona del Mar, Fr.; Eleanor Luzano, Rosary, Sr.; Margaux Pierog, Dana Hills, Jr.; Nadia Vaughan, Corona del Mar, Fr.; Nina Vaughan, Corona del Mar, Jr.; Michelle Weisz, El Dorado, Sr.; Shannon Wilkins, Canyon, Sr.

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