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GIRLS' TENNIS / SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION III

Laguna Hills Takes Easy Route to Title

Mukhopadhyay just keeps the ball in play as Palm Desert's Raftu self destructs in final set.

November 24, 1998|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Laguna Hills senior Ronjini Mukhopadhyay knows she didn't get any style points for her final-round victory over Tonia Raftu of Palm Desert, but she didn't seem to mind.

What mattered was that her 6-3 victory tied the set score at nine and gave Laguna Hills a 74-68 advantage in games and the Southern Section Division III championship.

The section title was the first in girls' tennis for third-seeded Laguna Hills (19-2), which had reached the semifinals the last two years. Mukhopadhyay's victory capped a Laguna Hills comeback from a 7-5 second-round deficit.

Jessica Prause's 6-3 victory in singles and convincing doubles wins by Megan Davies and Jamie Lautenschleger and Stephanie and Erina Hung gave Mukhopadhyay a chance to clinch the victory.

Mukhopadhyay wasn't doing much with the ball other than keeping it in play, but that was enough against Raftu, who was having trouble keeping a rein on her emotions.

"It wasn't real aggressive tennis," Mukhopadhyay said. "But it was the easiest way I knew to win. It was interesting. I knew there was no point in getting angry. Once she starting throwing her racket, I thought I had it."

Laguna Hills finished the regular season ranked eighth in the county. The Hawks reached the finals with a semifinal upset of second-seeded North Hollywood Harvard Westlake. Palm Desert (17-5), last year's Division III champion, advanced to the finals with a semifinal upset of top-seeded Westlake Village Westlake.

"We kind of came out of nowhere this year," Mukhopadhyay said. "I didn't think we'd win [the Pacific Coast] league. All this is totally surprising."

Laguna Hills Coach Linda Merritt wasn't expecting a section championship either, but she began to believe it could happen after the upset of Harvard Westlake.

"I knew it was going to be close today, but I told them there's no reason why they can't walk away with a victory," she said. "I think once they realized how far they had come, they thought, 'Why not just get first?' "

Prause, who had the stomach flu over the weekend and had to pull out of the section individuals, won two of her three sets at No. 1 singles. The Hung sisters and Davies and Lautenschleger also took two of three sets. Stephanie Hung is a senior. Her sister Erina is only 12 years old.

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