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Lynwood Builds Steadily

Girls' tennis team doesn't have high-profile players, but that doesn't keep it from enjoying success.

September 23, 2004|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

There is nothing extraordinary about the girls' tennis team at Lynwood.

Unlike the school's girls' basketball team, which has won four Southern Section and two state championships in the last four years, these Knights have never won a section championship and probably never will.

After all, these are not savvy players who have been on the court since they were old enough to hold a racket, and there is not a singular talent among them who can carry a program.

Coach Teri Dugan is perfectly fine with all of that. Turning her team into one that's on par with the best in Southern California is not her objective.

"I absolutely prefer it this way," said Dugan, Lynwood's coach for the last 16 years. "I get to see their development."

That's what's special about her players and her program.

Lynwood has won six consecutive San Gabriel Valley League titles, posting 107 victories in 115 matches along the way.

Last year, the Knights finished 20-3 and defeated Riverside Arlington and Garden Grove Pacifica in the Division III playoffs. They reached the quarterfinals for the first time before losing to eventual champion North Hollywood Campbell Hall.

The program has come a long way since Dugan, a biology teacher, took it over. She had to comb through the school's physical education classes to field one team. Today, with little prompting, she has enough players to fill varsity and junior varsity squads.

Though she has the numbers, nearly all of the players new to the team -- or "99% of them," as she puts it -- have never picked up a racket, much less played the sport.

"I had to teach them how to keep score," Dugan said.

Gabby Gomez, the No. 1 singles player, wouldn't even watch tennis on television.

"I didn't like watching it. I thought it was pretty boring," said Gomez, a team captain. "I never thought about playing tennis until [ninth grade]."

In four years, the senior has progressed from sitting on the bench as a freshman to placing third in the league's individual singles finals as a junior, and to finishing fourth in the Watts Games this summer.

Dugan, who played tennis at San Jacinto High and Mt. San Jacinto College, said her practices were instructional lessons for girls taking up tennis mostly as an extracurricular activity.

The only expectation Dugan has is that her players work -- on the court and in the classroom -- and commit much of their year to improving their games.

"We practice every day and we work hard," Gomez said. "It's kept me from doing many other things ... maybe not doing something bad. I don't know what I would be doing if I wasn't on the team."

Curtis Mu, a second-year coach at league-rival Paramount, cites the location of the two schools as one of the biggest challenges to building quality programs.

The kids who grow up in these working-class communities have little or no access to country clubs and often can't afford private instruction. Occasionally, Dugan said, the U.S. Tennis Assn. runs a week-long instructional camp for youngsters at a local park.

Stella Mancillas, one of Lynwood's doubles players, said she once showed her mother a flier regarding an offer to work out with a private tennis coach. "It was $400," Mancillas said. "My mom just laughed."

A dedicated coach in such a situation is a must, Mu said

"For our area, tennis is not too popular," he said. "We barely have nine players. I started last year and I was mainly correcting the girls' strokes and changing their equipment."

Lynwood has a 4-1 record this season after defeating Cypress and Lakewood on the road this week and Division III finalist Long Beach Poly last week.

The Knights particularly enjoy defeating a team they know has more experienced players.

"We take a lot of pride in what we do," Mancillas said. "Some schools that we beat, they've got their private trainers and their private coaches. They've got a lot of extra help. We've got one coach for all of us."

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