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PREP EXTRA

Peninsula, Team Spirit Prevail

March 23, 2000|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fostering team spirit in a sport that is largely an individual endeavor is an ongoing challenge for high school tennis coaches, especially among those blessed with the most talented players.

The Darwinian mentality and the time and specialized practice necessary for survival--let alone success--at the highest levels of junior tennis doesn't always lend itself to playing for a high school team.

Events such as last weekend's National High School Tennis All-American Team Invitational could help change that perception.

Palos Verdes Peninsula won the inaugural 16-team boys' tournament that included teams from throughout the nation.

Top-seeded Peninsula, a perennial power located in a tennis hotbed, won five matches and defeated Atherton Menlo, 7-1, to win the championship at the Palisades Tennis Club in Newport Beach.

"To get tennis kids to pull together is not always easy," Peninsula Coach Tom Cox said. "But we have a great group, and this tournament provided a great environment not only for the players but for the fans. I think it was great bonding experience for our guys to be competing together over a couple of days.

"If you're a player, and you saw what was going on at the tournament, you couldn't help but want to be a part of it."

Beverly Hills Coach Mike Margolin, whose team finished fifth, said the competition and spirit throughout the tournament was unmatched by any high school tennis event.

"I was watching the last match and it was like being back in college and watching USC against UCLA," said Margolin, a Beverly Hills alum who competed for USC from 1971-75. "The players were just outstanding."

Most, if not all, of Peninsula's players are likely to play college tennis.

Jeff Kazarian, last year ranked No. 2 in Southern California in the 16s by the U.S. Tennis Assn., won all of his singles and doubles matches last weekend and was named to the all-tournament team.

The resume for the rest of the Panthers' lineup is equally impressive: Goh Fukugaki was ranked 40th in 18s last year; Andreas Schirmer, an exchange student, is a top player from Germany; Tyege Sullivan was ranked 33rd in the 16s in 1998; Andrew Cohen was ranked 96th last year in 16s; and Orrin Franko was ranked 55th last year in 16s.

The Panthers won despite the absence of injured Rylan Rizza, who was ranked fifth in the 16s last year.

Kazarian said the sacrifices made to play for Peninsula are worth it.

"Playing high school tennis definitely does take away from private lessons and everything, but that's just what you have to do to be on a team," said Kazarian, a junior. "You have to live up to your commitment.

"I have friends [at other high schools] that don't have to go to practices, but then they show up for the big matches. I think all the other teammates will get bitter for that. They get on your bad side because you think you're bigger than the team."

With its victory last weekend, Peninsula firmly established itself as the team to beat in Southern Section Division I. The Panthers, however, will be challenged by defending champion Corona del Mar, Harvard-Westlake and Los Alamitos.

Irvine University is regarded as the favorite in Division II, Beverly Hills in Division III, San Marino in Division IV and Brentwood in Division V.

Defending champion Palisades is the favorite in the City Section.

Tim Mang, the organizer of last weekend's tournament, is planning a national girls' tournament, scheduled Oct. 5-7 at Balboa Bay Club Racquet Club.

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