Canyon Crest girls storm past Westview for CIF Open Division tennis title
Implementing veteran head coach Chris Black’s strategy to perfection, the top-seeded Canyon Crest Academy (CCA) girls tennis team captured all nine doubles points en route to a 13-5 victory over No. 3 seed Westview in the CIF Open Division Championships Thursday, Oct. 21, at Barnes Tennis Center. It was the Ravens’ third consecutive section title and fourth in a row counting last year’s combined boys-girls crown when a pandemic-spawned one-off coed format was utilized.
After seeing the way Westview played in upsetting second-seeded Torrey Pines in the Wednesday, Oct. 20, semi-final, Black settled on a match plan that he felt would play to his team’s enviable depth and minimize the damage the Wolverines’ top player, Kaila Barksdale, could inflict.
“We know that Kaila is the best singles player in the county so it didn’t make a lot of sense to put one of our players who could grab a win on another court up against Kaila,” said Black. “We resigned ourselves to the possibility that she could win three matches but knew that would just help bolster the rest of our lineup and make us stronger.
“Then you just hope they execute, which they did today.”
The extraordinary Barksdale, last season’s CIF singles titlist, played her part, bulldozing through three opponents without dropping a game. But on the other side of the equation, CCA’s three doubles teams all went undefeated to provide nine of the 10 points necessary to cinch a victory. The Ravens had enough firepower to snatch four of the remaining six singles points (two by senior Lyna Fowler and one each by Grace Wang and Mia Thiele) to finish off the job.
“For sure, we relied on our depth today as we have for the last several years,” Black said. “At CCA, our bread has always been buttered by having strong doubles teams.
“In high school tennis, there are a lot of teams that have really talented singles players but if you have a team that can be versatile and do both things, well then it’s going to serve you well in the post-season.”
Junior Lillia Finnegan and freshman Yule Kang, the senior duo of Asha Gidwani and Sofia Ung, and the senior-junior pairing of Karina Parikh and Elina Shalaev were the muscle behind Black’s doubles-centric tactics.
Gidwani and Fowler, both headed to UC Irvine next year, along with Ung, Parikh and Wang, have been in the lineup for all four CIF runs. It was Fowler who scored the match-sealing point and Gidwani and Ung who put the concluding touches on the afternoon’s competition.
“It’s just amazing,” said Gidwani, who was playing singles when CCA downed Westview to win its second CIF banner in 2019. “From the start of my freshman year my goal was to win CIF and the fact that we’ve done it four times in a row is incredible, especially the way that it all ended today.
“I’m just so happy right now—I can’t describe it. This one means a little bit more because I’m never going to be here again. It really touches my heart.”
Black had a special place in his heart for this particular group of players, who emerged from the chaos of Covid to create its own spot in CCA’s growing tennis legacy. “These are players that had won CIF championships on teams with star-types like Katy Codd, Irene Huang, Emily Fowler and Giulia Hayer,“ he said. “It was really nice for them to know they could win one all on their own.
“It was probably one of the most cohesive units we’ve had in years from a personality standpoint. There’s great senior leadership, no drama and the girls all really care about each other—it’s a team that fights for each other.
Although admittedly expecting to see Torrey Pines across the net from his club Thursday, Oct. 21, Black is familiar enough with Westview to know it would be no walk in the park. “We felt really confident we had a lineup that could win this match but Westview is the team we faced for the championship in 2019 and we weren’t going to underestimate them,” said Black, whose charges defeated Patrick Henry (15-3) and Del Norte (14-4) before reaching the Thursday, Oct. 21, pinnacle. “They absolutely earned that win over Torrey Pines, beating a team we felt we’d be in a coin flip against—so we looked at them the same way.”
Both teams will send contingents to next week’s CIF (individual) Singles and Doubles Championships (Fowler and Gidwani are defending section doubles champs), starting Monday at the Balboa Tennis Center. They will also participate in the CIF Southern California Regionals, Nov. 19-20.
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