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Court Decision : Tennis Teams Must Decide to Take Game to New Level

September 24, 1996|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first Southern Section girls' tennis poll carried more than the usual curiosity of finding out the top teams this season. The poll also gave coaches their first look at what the playoffs will look like under the section's new format that groups schools strictly by enrollment.

Corona del Mar Coach Tim Mang was more than a little surprised by what he saw.

Laguna Beach, which has won three of the last four Division II titles and was runner-up last year, was ranked first in the Division V rankings. Woodbridge, which tied Corona del Mar for the Sea View League championship last season, was first in the Division III rankings. Dana Hills, consistently ranked among the top five of the Division I rankings, was ranked first in Division II.

"My first reaction was, 'Geez, these guys are going for the easy trophies,' " Mang said.

Corona del Mar had the option of playing for a so-called "easy trophy." The school's enrollment of 764 students moved it from Division I to Division IV under the new format.

All Sea View League teams competed in Division I under the previous format, which grouped teams according to the strength of their league. After the schools were grouped by enrollment over the summer, coaches had until Sept. 9 to notify the section if they wanted to move their teams up a division or divisions. Teams were not given the option of moving down a division.

Mang said he had no intention of keeping his team in Division IV.

"These parents and kids wouldn't stand for anything other than Division I," Mang said. "These kids work hard all summer playing tournaments against the top competition. To ask them to play anything other than Division I wouldn't be fair to them.

"The Division I championship is kind of like the Super Bowl. You go for all you got. It's kind of like in school, are you going to go for an 'A' or a 'B'?"

Newport Harbor, also a member of the Sea View League, was in the same predicament as Corona del Mar. Newport Harbor Coach Fletcher Olson also chose to move her team up to Division I from Division IV.

"We want to play the best competition we can, and the larger schools seem to have the best competition," Olson said. "We have a strong enough team to be able to do that. We have a large tennis community to draw from and these kids want to play college tennis. I'd hate for them to play in a smaller division."

Woodbridge Coach Joan Willett said she gave her team the option of staying in Division III or moving up. The team voted overwhelmingly to stay in Division III.

"The girls just felt if this is where the CIF [Southern Section] designated us to play, this is where we'll go for it," Willett said. "Woodbridge has never won a CIF championship in girls' tennis. So I think that really had a lot to do with it."

Mang said he didn't fully understand Willett's reasoning.

"Their boys just won CIF and their girls tied us for the league title," Mang said. "You really would wonder why they would stay in Division III."

Villa Park Coach Sue Gardiner said she was also somewhat surprised to see Woodbridge in Division III.

"That's pretty unbelievable," she said. "Maybe they're really down, but I still would think they'd go up to Division II."

At the beginning of the boys' tennis season, Willett will take another vote to see if her boys are interested in climbing to Division I. She expects the boys' vote to be different than the girls' vote.

"We have almost our entire team back and I'm certain the boys will want to defend their championship," she said.

Villa Park, which defeated Laguna Beach for the girls' Division II championship last year, was placed in Division III. Gardiner said her team voted 8-0 to go back to Division II. Gardiner said the vote did not include her top two players, Faye DeVera and Katey Becker.

"I always try to do what the girls want to do," Gardiner said. "They're pretty level-headed. Not knowing what other teams were going to do made it tough. But we won Division II last year and we felt that was our lucky division."

Gardiner said there was some discussion about giving Division I a shot.

"A part of me wanted to try Division I and challenge [five-time defending Division I champion] Palos Verdes Peninsula and Corona del Mar," Gardiner said. "But then once we were in Division I, we wondered if we could go back down. Sometimes it takes an act of Congress to get moved down once you're up there in Division I."

Actually, it wouldn't take an act of anything. Karen Hellyer, an assistant Southern Section commissioner in charge of girls' tennis, said each school is automatically placed in a division each year based on their enrollment level. So Villa Park, as long as their enrollment stayed within the limits of Division III schools, would go back to Division III next year and would again have the option of jumping to Division II or Division I.

But it appears Gardiner and her team picked the right division. Last Wednesday, the Spartans were defeated by Corona del Mar, 14-4, in a nonleague match. Even though the Spartans were without Becker, who was injured, they would have still lost, 11-7, had Becker swept her three sets.

Newport Harbor appears to have picked the right division too. The Sailors showed they are more than good enough to compete in Division I last Thursday when they knocked off five-time defending champion Peninsula, 13-5, on Thursday.

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