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Yaftali Hoping for Repeat Performance in 101st Ojai


OJAI — Nina Yaftali of Westlake High and Philip Sheng of Thousand Oaks are among the top returning players in the 101st Ojai Valley tennis tournament that begins today and runs through Sunday at Libbey Park and other sites throughout Ventura County.

"I can't wait," Yaftali said. "I love that tournament. The competition is good, and just the atmosphere of the whole thing is really nice."

Yaftali soaked up the excitement that surrounded her 6-2, 7-5 victory over Jessica Siebel in the girls' 16 division final last year. Yaftali is hoping for an encore.

"I really wanted to do this," she said.

"Not many people have won it twice in a row, I don't think."

No one has won consecutive girls' 16 titles since Sandra Collins in 1973 and '74. The only other player to do it was Tina Watanabe in 1967 and '68.

Sheng will not have an opportunity to win the same division twice. He won the boys' high school title with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 victory over Paul Warkentin of San Marcos last year but will play doubles with Thousand Oaks teammate Andrew Peterson.

The Lancers were forced to choose between two quality singles players--Sheng, a senior ranked No. 4 in the nation in boys' 18s by the U.S. Tennis Assn., and junior Andrew Lieu, ranked No. 17 in boys' 16s.

Tournament rules for interscholastic play allow schools only one singles player and one doubles team to be considered for the draws of 64.

Lieu wanted to compete in singles and Sheng said he didn't mind giving his friend that opportunity.

"I'm playing with my buddy [Peterson] and I'm looking forward to it," Sheng said.

"I figured I won [singles] last year, and [Lieu's] playing well this year and he's got a good chance to win it."

If Lieu prevails, it would be the first time players from the same school have won the division title in consecutive years since Frank Winne and Harvey B. Snodgrass did it for the Thacher School in 1916 and '17.

Sheng's absence opens up the singles draw considerably. Also competing are junior Stephen Amritraj of Crespi, junior Jesse Ferlianto of Harvard-Westlake, sophomore Robert Yim of Glendale, freshman Hakop Tadevosian of Hoover, senior Matt Jones of El Camino Real and junior Nima Roshan of Granada Hills.

Yaftali's road to another championship could be blocked by Lori Stern, her USTA tournament doubles partner.

Stern, an Ojai resident and a junior at Cate School in Carpinteria, is seeded No. 1 in the girls' 16 division after playing in the 18-and-under division last year.

Stern, ranked No. 2 in Southern California in girls' 16s, lost to Susanna Lingman of Irvine in the second round last year. Yaftali, ranked No. 16 in Southern California in girls' 16s, is seeded No. 2.

"I really think it's going to come down to her and me at the end," Yaftali said.

"The whole week, we've been bantering back and forth about who's going to win."



What: The 101st Ojai Valley tennis tournament.

When: Today through Sunday.

Where: Libbey Park in downtown Ojai is the central site, with semifinal and final rounds played there. Approximately 110 courts from Camarillo to Ojai will be used.

Players to watch: The Pacific 10 Conference singles tournament includes Alex Kim of Stanford, men's runner-up last season, and sophomore Sara Walker of UCLA, who won the women's title last year. In women's doubles, Tiffany Brymer of USC, a finalist last year and a Southern Section singles champion at Rio Mesa High in 1998, will play with Jewel Peterson. The Pac-10 invitational men's division includes Travis Rettenmaier of UCLA and Dillon Ruby of Washington. On the women's side are Erin Boisclair of Washington, Krissy Hamilton and Bernadette Bayani of USC, and Jennifer Donahue of UCLA.

The girls' 18-and-under division includes Brooke Borisoff of Agoura, Jasmin Dao of Northridge, Samantha Hammond of Westlake Village, Monica Wiesener of Woodland Hills and Jenny Munroe of Valencia.

Junior Nina Yaftali of Westlake High, defending girls' 16-and-under champion, will be challenged by Lori Stern of Cate School, freshmen Christine Dao of Granada Hills, Falon Lopez of Oxnard and Daron Moore of Campbell Hall, a finalist in the 14-and-under division last year.

Mykala Hedberg of Oxnard will be among the favorites in the girls' 14-and-under division with Victoria Brymer of Apple Valley.

Samuel Tadevosian of Glendale is in the boys' 14-and-under division. He is joined by Skate Gorham of Ojai, Sam Querrey of Thousand Oaks and Gary Sacks of Calabasas.

Mark Ellis of Ventura, Division III national champion at Cal Lutheran in 1996, is defending the men's open title.

Admission: Today and Friday, $8 for adults, $7 for seniors (64 and over) and students with school identification cards, and $2 for children. Saturday and Sunday, $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, and $4 for children.

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