The Los Altos High girls tennis team faced little resistance on the way to placing first in the SCVAL El Camino Division last season, winning all 12 matches by scores of 5-2 or better. The Eagles also surprised two teams from the league’s upper division to finish 14-0.
While that was only six months ago – the season was shortened and pushed from fall to spring due to the pandemic – Los Altos finds itself in a much different place as the 2021 season gets underway. The Eagles are no longer in the friendly confines of the El Camino, promoted to the De Anza Division after coach Hung Nguyen said they lobbied for the move.
As expected, life in the top tier hasn’t been easy for Los Altos; the team last week dropped its first two league matches. The Eagles fell 4-3 at Cupertino Sept. 14 and lost to rival Mountain View by the same score Thursday at home.
“We’re in transition this year,” Los Altos doubles player Rose Liu said, “and we realized with the move up, we’d have to fight harder.”
Especially on the singles side, as the De Anza features some of the best players in the Central Coast Section – and beyond.
“Cupertino’s No. 1 player is one of the best in the nation,” Nguyen said of nationally ranked sophomore Gayathri Krishnan. “She’s really good.”
The Eagles’ top singles player last season, Hannah Ghaffari, graduated in the spring, leaving their singles ladder in flux. Transfer Samantha Wallace and Melody Ghaffari (Hannah’s sister) continue to battle for No. 1, while Miu Kikuchi and Madison Chin now hold down the third and fourth spots, respectively.
Wallace, who came from Notre Dame-Belmont, has so far fended off Ghaffari, the team’s No. 2 player last season, for the top position on the ladder.
“Samantha has adapted to the team really well,” Nguyen said. “She has pretty big ground strokes and a big serve – same as Melody. She has a little more power than Melody, but Melody moves a little better.”
As for Kikuchi and Chin, the coach said, “They’ve really stepped up.” Nguyen credited that to their hard work over the summer and being more mature.
Although the Eagles have yet to win a singles match in the De Anza Division this season, Nguyen expects that to change soon.
“They’re getting better,” he said, “and I’m blessed that my top four are all juniors.”
While singles may be a work in progress, Los Altos’ doubles teams remain as dominant as last season. They won all their matches last week – starting with the Eagles’ 7-0 non-league rout of Valley Christian to open the season Sept. 13 – and haven’t lost since 2019.
“In doubles, we are so strong that if you don’t sweep us in singles, you’re probably going to lose,” said Nguyen, in his 12th year as coach. “I’m proud of the doubles teams – they do everything they can to win the point and they don’t beat themselves.”
Junior Sophia Shao and senior Sofia Mujica are the No. 1 team – just like last season. That familiarity gives them an advantage, according to Shao.
“We’ve been playing together since the end of my ninth-grade year and her sophomore year,” she said. “We know each other’s playing styles. I’m lucky to have played with her for such a long time.”
The No. 2 team of Liu and Isabelle Baker, both seniors, has also benefited from sharing the same side of the court before.
“We’ve been partners since last season, and we work together really well,” Liu said. “Our personalities match well. We always encourage and support each other.”
The No. 3 team is a new pairing – Sania Rashid, a junior, and Tyra Bogan, the team’s lone freshman.
“Tyra is pretty raw, she’s a soccer player, but she’s a great athlete who’s getting more into tennis,” Nguyen said.
The coach noted that Los Altos has two other formidable teams behind them: seniors Nicole Hofmann and Jenna Keifling, along with sisters Emma and Cate Boschken, a senior and sophomore, respectively. While only three teams can play in a team match, Nguyen is finding ways to get his other doubles players in on the action.
“We have a semi-rotation system, so the others will play,” he said, adding that if one player is unavailable, he replaces the entire doubles team with another.
Nguyen’s bigger challenge may be getting his players enough practice time. Construction at Mountain View High has rendered the courts there unusable for now, so the Eagles are having to share their courts with the Spartans. Los Altos is now limited to one day of practice per week, according to Nguyen.
Shao said the Eagles are still adjusting to the new arrangement.
“It’s definitely interesting,” she said. “I personally enjoy practice – it keeps me warmed up and ready. Matches are draining, especially when we have three in a week, and with fewer practices, we’re more in game-play mode. We’re less carefree.”
However, Los Altos seems determined to overcome that – all while playing in a tougher division – to make a run at the playoffs.
“Everyone’s working toward that goal,” Liu said.
The Eagles, who have a bye Thursday, visit Monta Vista
4 p.m. Tuesday.
Spartans stay unbeaten
Mountain View improved to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the De Anza with Thursday’s victory over Los Altos, avenging last season’s loss by the same score.
The Spartans, under new coach Justin Stenger, won all four singles matches in straight sets. Top player Penelope Wong, a sophomore, prevailed 6-3, 6-3.
Mountain View entertains Saratoga 4 p.m. today at Los Altos.