Eagles enjoy net gain with youthful lineup

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Nadia Ghaffari plays No. 1 singles for the Los Altos High girls tennis team.

Coach Hung Nguyen admitted to being pleasantly surprised when his Los Altos High girls tennis team opened the season by winning its division of the California Tennis Classic. After the Eagles decisively defeated Mitty three days later, he was convinced that this young squad could be special.

“The team really matured in front of my eyes,” Nguyen said. “They’ve gained a lot of confidence and expect to win when they get on the court.”

The 5-2 home victory over Mitty Sept. 13 was Los Altos’ first over the West Catholic Athletic League team in the coach’s nine years running the program.

“That was probably our biggest win so far,” Nguyen said. “I told the girls that I couldn’t remember the last time we beat a Catholic League team – it was probably Valley Christian a few years ago in Fresno.”

That would have been at the California Tennis Classic, a two-day event the Eagles participate in every year (except 2015; it was canceled due to a nearby wildfire). Los Altos went 4-1 there this season to capture the Division II championship Sept. 10.

The Eagles topped Simi Valley in the semifinals – a win Nguyen put on par with beating Mitty – and trounced Gregori (Modesto) in the final.

“We played really well in Fresno,” the coach said. “It was a great way to start the season.”

Los Altos, now midway through its schedule, has already exceeded last year’s win total. The Eagles improved to 10-1 with Thursday’s 6-1 home rout of Santa Clara; they finished 8-10 a year ago.

Los Altos sits atop the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League El Camino Division at 5-0, and Nguyen expects to remain there.

“I’m confident we’ll win our league and make CCS,” he said.

It’s been three years since the team qualified for the Central Coast Section team playoffs. Last year’s Eagles placed sixth in the SCVAL De Anza Division, leading to their demotion to the friendlier confines of the El Camino.

The two best players on the 2015 squad – Carina Burdick and Juliette Martin, who played in the top two singles spots before combining forces in the CCS individual playoffs to claim the doubles crown – graduated last spring.

The current 14-member team isn’t as experienced (five returnees and only two seniors), but it’s proving to have a lot more depth.

“We have great balance,” Nguyen said. “We’re deeper in singles this year, we have two talented freshmen who are very versatile and can play singles and doubles, and all the seniors play and help out in doubles. All 14 girls have seen action.”

No. 1 singles player Nadia Ghaffari has lost just once this season. The left-handed junior, who didn’t play last season, “has matured a lot since she was a freshman,” the coach said. “She has a lot of power, she’s a smart player and is very mentally tough.”

No. 2 player Karina Shah Chavez “improved over the summer,” Nguyen said. The sophomore, who played doubles last year, “is very steady,” the coach added.

Sophomores Celeste Tran and Krithika Nathamuni round out the singles lineup. Nguyen described them as “interchangeable” at the No. 3 and 4 spots, noting that they aren’t far behind Shah Chavez.

The coach inserts freshman Kylie Akiyama into the singles lineup when needed, and she’s yet to lose in that role. Otherwise, Akiyama teams with junior Aline Wu at No. 1 doubles, where they are unbeaten.

The Eagles’ other flexible freshman, Hannah Pashenkov, has played all three doubles spots.

“She’s very versatile and can play with different partners,” Nyugen said.

Seniors Tessa Hocquet and Sydney Sukhdeo fortify the doubles side, playing wherever needed.

Los Altos, which has a bye Thursday, is slated to visit Milpitas 3:30 p.m. next Tuesday.

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