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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Theory of Relativity Is Alive on Several Girls' Tennis Teams

Sisters and cousins play side by side on some of the top squads in the region, making for built-in camaraderie.

October 26, 2000|LAUREN PETERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For many of the best high school girls' tennis teams in the region, success grows on family trees.

Branches extend throughout Granada Hills, San Fernando and Verdugo Hills in the City Section, and St. Bonaventure, Westlake, Oak Park, Calabasas and Campbell Hall in the Southern Section.

"I've got a never-ending pool around here," said Verdugo Hills Coach Dick Smith, whose Dons (11-0, 8-0 in league play) are closing in on the Sunset Six League title.

The No. 2 doubles team is senior cousins Polly and Leesa Mac. Leesa's junior sister, Susan, plays No. 3 doubles.

In addition, No. 2 singles player Eunice Cho is joined in the program by cousin Sue Hae Cho and younger sister Angela Cho. There also are sisters Bernadette and Tina Yu.

"There's a lot of families on this team," Leesa Mac said. "That's what I think is really good. Everybody's really comfortable with each other."

That comfort zone extends beyond the court, but also contributes to the Dons' success on it, according to Polly Mac.

"We're always together," she said. "We listen to each other and we understand each other a lot. I wouldn't mind playing with any of my other teammates, but if I could choose, I would choose Leesa."

Sisters Jasmin and Christine Dao of Granada Hills are the best pair of talents in the region, and preservation of their relationship was foremost on their minds.

"They came to me before the season started and said they didn't want to play each other," Granada Hills Coach Ron Wood said.

Jasmin, a 17-year-old senior who is ranked No. 52 in Southern California in the girls' 18 division by the U.S. Tennis Assn., led Granada Hills to the City Section championship last season. She was selected The Times' 1999 Valley/Ventura County player of the year, and is in her fourth season as the Highlanders' No. 1 singles player.

Christine, a 14-year-old freshman, is at No. 2 singles. She is rated No. 19 in Southern California in girls' 14s by the USTA and might have the skill to unseat her sibling as Granada Hills' top player.

But no one will ever know if the matter is left to the sisters, who are unbeaten this season.

"We've never played each other and it's better that way," Jasmin said. "We've never had the experience of playing on the same team before, and we don't want to have something mess that up."

Jasmin was a semifinalist in last year's City Section individual tournament, but Christine would rather not challenge her sibling this season.

"We're both very competitive, but I give her respect, a lot of respect," Christine said. "She's my older sister and I would never want to play her. I just wouldn't.

"If that ever came up, I would probably default. It would be a great thing to get to that point, but that's as far as it would go."

Granada Hills (11-0, 8-0 in West Valley League play) is on course to repeat as City champion. The Highlanders won the Valencia tournament and have won every City match by a 7-0 margin.

In Calabasas, sisters Vanessa and Erin Everly, and Andrea and Hilary Leewong helped the Coyotes win the Southern Section Division IV title last season. With the Leewongs and No. 1 player Erin Everly back, the Coyotes (15-0, 5-0 in Frontier League play) appear poised for an encore.

The sport is all in the family at Westlake and Oak Park, too.

The Warriors (12-4, 10-0 in Marmonte League play) are on their way to their 16th league championship in 23 years, thanks in part to their No. 2 doubles team of twins Poppy and Daisy Garofalo.

Oak Park (11-4, 5-2 in Tri-Valley League play) is bolstered by freshman twins Marisa Gilbert at No. 1 singles and Melanie Gilbert at No. 3 doubles. Melanie teams with freshman Michelle Levy, whose senior sister, Erica, plays No. 1 doubles with Devin Hindin.

"There are five seniors on the team and then I have my sister, so it's really nice," Erica Levy said. "It's so much fun. We're all almost like sisters anyway."

St. Bonaventure (13-1) has lost only to Calabasas and has beaten Tri-Valley League rivals La Reina and Oak Park twice each with the help of No. 1 player Katie Callaghan and sisters Kelsey and Kristen Ferguson, who play No. 3 singles and No. 3 doubles, respectively. Callaghan's older brother is a former league doubles champion and was a singles finalist last year.

St. Bonaventure Coach Loesje Guizar, in her first season with the Seraphs, knows all about tennis-playing siblings. Guizar grew up Loesje Ouwendijk, one of four sisters who played at and graduated from Rio Mesa High.

"There was a time when my mom would be driving us to tournaments in three different age groups. But we loved the sport," she said.

"It's nice that we've always been able to share it. There's a lot of families that do this now. You just have to make sure the family values stay strong, that they don't get lost in the competition."

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