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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Verdugo Hills' Success Related to Closeness

October 08, 1999

VERDUGO HILLS — Polly and Leesa Mac are nearly always together.

They are cousins, but that isn't the only thing that keeps them close.

They are together in several classes and usually on the same court at No. 2 doubles for the Verdugo Hills High girls' tennis team.

"I'm always with Polly," said Leesa, who lives a block from Polly.

The relationship between the cousins, who live in the shadow of Chavez Ravine and often go to bat for each other on the court, is typical of the Dons' family-oriented team. Chandni Patel plays No. 3 singles for the Dons and her sister Arti plays No. 3 doubles.

"We're really close," Leesa said. "All my friends are on the tennis team and tennis is our bond."

That spirit of teamwork, especially in doubles, where the Macs are undefeated this season, has helped Verdugo Hills (5-0, 2-0 in the Sunset Six League).

"We're all supportive of each other," Polly said. "I think we help each other out a lot when we're playing."

Coach Dick Smith agrees.

"I have no superstars or really big hitters," Smith said. "I mean, there are some girls who are pretty good, but no real name players. But they communicate really well."

The Dons do so in many languages.

The Macs, juniors, were born in the U.S. but are of Chinese descent. They are fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin, and speak some Spanish.

Other players are of Filipino, Cambodian, Korean, Armenian and Indian ancestry. Many, like the Macs, are bused from Los Angeles to Verdugo Hills.

"We're all friends outside of tennis, too," Polly said. "We can talk to each other and sometimes we'll sit down and talk and ask each other about differences between us."

Smith, in his eighth year as the girls' coach and the boys' coach the last 18 years, has built successful programs by drawing from the same family.

"That's how I recruit," Smith said, laughing. "Somehow, if they're not family, they're all real close friends. I think it helps make the teams closer. During the girls' matches, there are always a lot of boys out there, too, supporting them."

Smith guided the girls' team to the Northern Conference championship and the City Division semifinals last year.

Verdugo Hills was the City 3-A Division champion in 1997, and has won league titles the last four seasons.

The Dons will rely on their doubles teams to pursue another title.

Juniors Helen Luu and Amy Pham are unbeaten at No. 1 doubles and senior Bo-Hyen Lee and sophomore Arti Patel have not lost at No. 3 doubles.

Chandari Kang, Eunice Cho, Annie Hy and Chandni Patel are converted doubles players who are adapting to their singles roles.

"Our No. 1 through 4 singles are pretty even and we have good doubles [teams]," Pham said. "We actually have a really strong team."

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