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High Schools | BOYS' TENNIS PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Van't Hof Earns Official Validation

June 15, 2004|Elia Powers | Times Staff Writer

It took almost four years of high school tennis and a series of heartbreaking championship-match losses at the Ojai Valley tennis tournament before Kaes Van't Hof tasted his first major CIF singles title.

It's not as if the Santa Ana Mater Dei senior really needed the affirmation. His reputation as one of the most dominant -- and popular -- players in the Southland had developed without a Southern Section championship plaque.

Getting one simply reinforced his status among the sport's elite.

His straight-set, title-match victory over top-seeded Santa Barbara junior Blake Muller was an exhibition of overpowering serves and ground strokes turned in by a player whose name has become synonymous with strength.

"This was one of my better performances [of the season]," Van't Hof said after the match.

May was a banner month for Van't Hof, culminating with the singles title on May 29. He won the Serra League singles tournament, swept through qualifying rounds and earned a No. 2 seeding in the section draw.

Van't Hof finished the season with a 42-1 record. He became Mater Dei's first boys' singles champion and the only son of a former champion to take the crown -- his father, Robert, won while at Downey in 1976.

For Van't Hof, it all adds up to being named The Times' player of the year.

With his sunny demeanor and friendly conduct, it took Van't Hof little time to become a popular figure on the tennis circuit.

His ascension up the prep tennis ladder was a little more gradual. After losing to Anaheim Servite's Jonathan Sanchez in straight sets in last season's Serra League qualifying tournament -- eliminating him from sectional play -- Van't Hof vowed to improve for his senior year.

He added muscle over the summer by sticking to a vigorous workout routine. His bulk, coupled with three years of high school experience, made the free-swinging left-hander a frightening opponent.

"His power this year made him a dominating player," said Servite Coach Dick Fumanti, who has seen Van't Hof develop throughout his prep career. "His strokes were much stronger and his serve was much harder."

An early-season, 6-4 league victory over Sanchez showed that Van't Hof, headed to USC this fall, had made great strides over the summer. His momentum carried him into the finals at Ojai, where he seemed destined to emerge with a championship in the CIF division.

But Van't Hof lost a draining, three-set match to Thousand Oaks sophomore Sam Querrey in the championship match.

It would be his only loss of the season, but it didn't sit well.

Van't Hof remained poised as the season progressed, not showing any signs of disappointment from Ojai.

"He's not a hothead," Coach Marian Danse said. "He isn't a throw-your-racquet type."

Instead, the loss seemed to invigorate Van't Hof, who finished the season on a high note, and at the top of his game.

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THE TIMES' ALL-STAR BOYS' TENNIS TEAM

*--* FIRST TEAM Singles Blake Muller Santa Barbara Jr. Dons' standout advanced to the Southern Section singles championship match. A 30-5 record could easily have been padded by playing in every league match. Sam Querrey Thousand Oaks So. Talented singles standout stole the spotlight at Ojai by defeating Van't Hof in a spectacular three-set match to win the CIF singles title. Did not participate in postseason qualifiers. Jonathan Sanchez Servite Sr. BYU-bound player compiled a 42-3 singles record and had multiple chances to defeat Muller in the section semifinals. Kaes Van't Hof Mater Dei Sr. Finished the season with a 42-1 record and became the Monarchs' first boys' Southern Section individuals singles champion with a straight-set victory. Doubles Andy Gerst Redondo Jr. Nick Berger Jr. There's not much more for this duo to accomplish in their senior seasons after winning a Southern Section doubles title and playing key roles in the Sea Hawks' first team championship. Christopher Ho Santa Barbara Fr. Grant Robertson Jr. Took a 50-0 record into the Southern Section doubles finals, where they lost in straight sets to Gerst and Berger, one day after sweeping Harvard-Westlake in the semifinals. Sam Wagner Harvard-Wstlke. Jr. Hiro Kobayashi Jr. Wagner gets a repeat first-team selection after leading his team to a Southern Section Division I championship. The duo finished 23-3, and Wagner picked up a Mission League doubles title with Bret Thacher. Coach of the Year: Mike Denison, Loyola With no superstars and in the shadow of Mission League powerhouse North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake all season, Denison kept the Cubs believing and eventually presided over a surprise run to the Southern Section Division I finals. SECOND TEAM Singles Mike McClune Woodbridge Fr. Josh Lederman Harvard-Westlake Jr. Wesley Miller Corona del Mar Jr. Cale Planck Palm Desert Jr. Doubles Max Ortiz Loyola Jr. Jeff Niedermeyer Sr. Jon Vlasach Redondo Sr. Logan Bailey Sr. Scott Hohenstein Anaheim Canyon Jr. Ryan Sanburg Jr.

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