Eagles on the mend

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Junior Yuu Ishikawa plays No. 1 singles for Los Altos High in last week’s league match against visiting Monta Vista.

A sore back, two strained shoulders, a sprained ankle and a concussion. While that may look like an injury list for a football squad, it’s actually the tally for the girls tennis team at Los Altos High.

Most of the injuries occurred before the season began, according to coach Hung Nguyen, who has yet to have his full complement of players available for a match. Four of the five starters affected – including No. 1 singles player Yuu Ishikawa – have missed matches or played hurt.

“I haven’t had a season like this before,” said Nguyen, in his 10th year as coach. “We’re so banged up.”

Noting that his team is on the mend, Nguyen is optimistic that better health will lead to better results for Los Altos. The Eagles are off to an 0-3 start in the daunting De Anza Division of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League and 2-6 overall, with both victories coming at the season-opening Stanford Tournament.

The league losses to Los Gatos, Saratoga and Monta Vista were by 4-3 scores decided by super tiebreakers. Ishikawa, who only played singles in the last of those matches due to a lingering back injury, is encouraged by the results.

“All the teams we’ve played are really strong, and the scores have been so close,” the junior said, “so maybe the second time we play them, those matches could go our way.”

Especially with the starting lineup Nguyen envisioned at the start of the season.

Without Ishikawa – whom he called “one of the most talented players I’ve ever coached” – atop the singles ladder, sisters Hannah and Melody Ghaffari had to move up to No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively. That’s a lot to ask of Hannah, a junior who played No. 4 singles last year, and freshman Melody, according to Nguyen.

“Hannah has fought hard, but she is not ready for that (position) in the De Anza and hasn’t had much success,” he said. “Melody is doing well, but she’s suffered some tough losses.”

Another freshman, Miu Kikuchi, plays No. 4 singles when everyone is available. Nguyen said that, like Melody, she has “promising upside.” Ishikawa added that both freshmen “have really improved.”

The team’s two other nine-graders – Madison Chin and Sophia Shao – play on the doubles side.

“I’m really excited about their future, too,” Nguyen said.

The Eagles also have several experienced doubles players, starting with captains Kylie Akiyama and Hannah Pashenkov at the top spot. Both have been hindered by what Nguyen called “nagging shoulder injuries” this season.

“They can’t serve at a maximum level and have to rely more on their groundstrokes to win,” the coach said, “and Kylie has one of best serves on the team.”

Nguyen expects to get another veteran doubles player, Sydney Aaron, back from injury soon, though he’s been pleased with how the Eagles have played on that side of the ladder under the circumstances. The coach praised junior Navya Singhai, in particular, for her performance at No. 2 doubles. Sophomore Sofia Mujica, junior Parisa Larson and senior Manasi Sastry also have contributed to the cause.

“Our doubles are stronger this year and maybe a little more athletic,” he said.

Ishikawa likes what she’s seen from that group as well.

“We have a very strong, solid No. 1 (team), and all the other girls are good pairs,” she said. “We have a lot of depth in doubles, and that could be what we count on this season.”

Ishikawa and Nguyen both consider Los Altos a playoff contender (the Eagles advanced to the second round last year) – as long as the team’s injury luck takes a turn for the better.

“All I can do is keep my fingers crossed,” the coach said. “I look forward to having the team fully healthy.”

To help them heal, he canceled last Friday’s practice. This is a big week for Los Altos, scheduled to play a pair of league matches before traveling to San Diego Thursday for the Point Loma Classic.

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