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Matias' senior year at Carson is her first on a high school campus

November 10, 2002|Lauren Peterson | Times Staff Writer

Dianne Matias knew she had found what she was looking for as soon as she arrived at Carson High for her first day of school.

Carson's expansive campus, typically bustling with thousands of students making their way through a maze of locker-lined hallways, was all new to this high school senior.

"I just thought, 'Wow, there's a lot of kids here,' " she said. "I didn't know what I was doing, or where I was going."

Which, she reminded herself, was precisely the point.

Matias, a 17-year-old tennis phenom, was enrolled in an independent-study program through Futures High in Mission Viejo her first three years of high school so she could concentrate on her athletic career. She chose to spend her senior year in a public-school setting because of her desire to experience the typical routine of a student in preparation for college next year.

"I just wanted to see what normal high school was like," she said. "I wanted to get ready for college, and now I know I'll be prepared for it."

Matias began playing tennis regularly at age 8, but her parents, George and Nancy Matias, began pointing her toward the sport long before that.

Dianne is named after Dyan Castillejo, who was a top player in the Philippines, the family's native country, in 1985, the year Dianne was born. Her two younger brothers go by their middle names, Ivan, after Ivan Lendl, who was the top men's player in the world in 1989, when 13-year-old Raineir was born, and Ace, "like the tennis ace," as 9-year-old Goffrey is known.

"I pushed her because I know she can do it," said George Matias, who was his daughter's primary coach until four years ago. "I've seen the way she plays, how she doesn't want to miss anything, and I think she's going to be good."

Despite training full time and competing as an amateur in as many lower-level professional tournaments as possible over the last three years, the 5-foot-4 Matias doesn't have the physical strength that her private coach, Jim Strong, believes she will need to succeed on the professional level.

The need to develop power to augment her precision and consistency is one of the primary reasons Matias plans to play in college before turning pro. She and Carson teammate Judith De Vera have made commitments to USC.

Going to Carson and playing tennis for the Colts (13-0, 10-0 in Marine League play) is all part of a revised plan.

Gone is the routine that allowed Matias to wake at 9 a.m., spend up to 2 1/2 hours practicing in the morning, break for lunch, and then spend another two or three hours on the court. She now sets her alarm for 6:30 a.m., attends school until 2 p.m., and then goes to Carson tennis practice or matches after that. Private practice time is limited to about 1 1/2 hours a day.

"I can't just go out there and do whatever. I have to schedule everything now," Matias said. "It's a little bit more work because I'm here every day. And I have to interact with more people, but other than that, it hasn't been too much different."

Carson Coach Gordon Emi believes playing for the Colts has eased Matias' transition into campus life.

"You never know what to expect from home-schooled kids, but she's well-adjusted," Emi said. "She's quiet, but she gets along with the other girls. She fits in, and I think tennis certainly helps with that."

Matias, No. 3 in Southern California rankings and No. 23 nationally in the U.S. Tennis Assn. girls' 18 division, was No. 1 in Southern California and No. 3 nationally in the division as a 15-year-old in 2000. Her ranking, based on age-division performances, sank as she began playing in professional tournaments.

Carson, unbeaten the last two seasons, has won 46 consecutive matches. Although they are seeded third behind Granada Hills and Palisades, the Colts will be going for their third City Section team title in a row and their fourth consecutive appearance in the finals when the playoffs begin this week. Matias, who is 13-0 at No. 1 singles, should be among the favorites to win the City singles championship.

Those achievements would be welcome additions to Matias' short-lived high school experience.

"I just didn't want to look back and regret that I never even went [to high school]," she said.

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