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Simi Valley Out to Repeat Feat

Pioneers, with only two defeats last season, have 10 seniors on roster and are favored in Marmonte League.


With a taste of success in the Marmonte League, the Simi Valley High girls' tennis team wants seconds.

The Pioneers last season tied with Camarillo for Simi Valley's first Marmonte League title and made the playoffs for the first time since 1989, advancing to the Southern Section Division I quarterfinals before losing to Irvine Woodbridge.

Between the league loss to Camarillo and the playoff defeat, the Pioneers (20-2) strung together a 17-match winning streak.

"It seemed like everything that could go right did go right," Simi Valley fourth-year Coach Rob Wickwire said.

"There was just nothing that went wrong last year. Of course, that's just what I'm a little afraid of this year."

Still around to ease Wickwire's fears are seven of the top nine players. Among the returnees are Mindy Gondrez at No. 1 singles and doubles standouts Margo O'Donnell and Rebecca Hunau.

The team includes 10 seniors, a junior and a freshman, so experience is a strength.

"Hopefully, we can repeat," said O'Donnell, who was 57-3 in doubles sets in 1997. "We're used to playing with each other, and all of us are leaving after this year, so we're all trying to go out with a bang."

Confidence now comes easily for the Pioneers, who had long been a lower-tier team in a talented league.

"We had so much fun last year," O'Donnell said. "It was like each match helped us for the next one."

Gondrez, a senior three-year varsity player, went 56-4 last season and is No. 46 in the U.S. Tennis Assn. girls' 18 rankings.

The other key for Simi Valley is its doubles depth.

O'Donnell and returning senior Andrea Espinoza were the No. 1 team last season, going 29-1 in league. O'Donnell then teamed with Hunau during the postseason to go 21-1 in sets and advance to the quarterfinals of the CIF sectional doubles tournament.

Hunau, 61-5 in doubles last year, also returns. But she and O'Donnell will again be split during round-robin regular-season play to increase depth.

"To waste that talent on one team wouldn't make sense," Wickwire said. "I kind of like to spread out the wealth a little bit."

Other teams to watch:

Calabasas: The Coyotes return eight of nine players from a squad that lost to Chaminade in the semifinals of the Southern Section Division IV playoffs.

The best of those players, Shervin Saedinia, may also be the best high school player in the region.

Calabasas has been a freelance team but will play in the Frontier League, its first league since 1991.

Granada Hills: The Highlanders, who suffered their only loss last season to Hamilton in the City Section 4-A semifinals, will be strong in singles, where No. 1 player Jasmin Dao, a sophomore, returns after advancing to the quarterfinals of the City individual tournament.

Hart: The Indians, sixth in the Southern Section Division II preseason poll, have seven seniors back from a 1997 team that won Hart's first Foothill League title in 10 years.

Hart boasts one of the region's best individual players, sophomore Jenny Munroe, No. 16 in USTA Southern California girls' 16 rankings. Munroe was part of the USTA Southern California girls' 16 zone championship team, and she also won singles tournament titles in Ventura and Los Angeles.

Harvard-Westlake: What the Wolverines lose in graduated Southern Section singles champion Marissa Irvin, they make up for in depth.

Harvard-Westlake won the Mission League championship and was Southern Section Division III runner-up last season, and the Wolverines expect to at least equal that with the help of freshmen Jessica Leck, Katelyn Rader and Maggie Kayne, and the return of sophomore Stephanie Berg and senior doubles specialist Kelly Hanker.

Quartz Hill: Seven of nine players, including Nicole Williford, No. 1 player and defending Golden League singles champion, return for the Rebels. Quartz Hill has won the past nine Golden League titles and lost just one league match in that span.

Westlake: Southern Section Division III finalists in 1996, the Warriors missed the playoffs last season for the first time in school history.

An influx of young talent makes that unlikely to happen again. And with Camarillo moved to the Pacific View League, the Warriors should challenge Simi Valley's claim to the Marmonte League championship.

Nina Yaftali is the best of four freshmen and will play No. 1 singles. Amy Corwin is an experienced USTA tournament player, and Audra Dickey and Deepa Radhakrishnan are transfers from La Reina.



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