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CCA boys upend Bishop’s to claim first CIF Open Division tennis crown

Pure joy--Ryan Atwell and the CCA boys had plenty to be happy about Saturday.
Pure joy--Ryan Atwell and the CCA boys had plenty to be happy about Saturday.
(Ken Grosse)

In his 18 years as a tennis coach at Canyon Crest Academy (CCA), Chris Black has seen the program evolve from a freshman-only team in 2004 to a juggernaut that would likely be rated the best in the county today by anyone familiar with the sport at the prep level.

Since the CIF created Open Division Tennis Championships in 2015, one major title has eluded the Ravens—boys’ team champion. In three of the first six Open tournaments, CCA reached the finals, only to be turned away each time by local rival Torrey Pines. In 2020, CoVid-19 caused the cancellation of the boys’ season and a year later, a set of pandemic-driven circumstances led to a first of its kind coed championship which was won by Canyon Crest in convincing fashion. In both of the last two years, Black’s squad would have been a heavy favorite if a standard boys’ tourney had been played.

That lack of a boys’ title, while not necessarily a major concern for CCA, has certainly been at least a topic of friendly conversation for the last several seasons. As of last Saturday afternoon, consider the conversation closed.

Senior singles star Zach Pellouchoud was a key part of CCA's title-winning lineup.
Senior singles star Zach Pellouchoud was a key part of CCA’s title-winning lineup.
(Ken Grosse)

Getting contributions from up-and-down the lineup, the second-seeded Ravens jumped on the top-seeded Bishop’s School in a hurry and never eased up, cruising to a 12-6 triumph at San Diego’s Barnes Tennis Center.

“To ultimately win by that score, our boys just went out and grabbed it in a way I wasn’t sure we could do,” said Black, who considered his club a slight underdog going in. “We put out a lineup that we felt had a chance to win but they really outperformed what we thought they could deliver.

“ Bishop’s is an outstanding team and when David (Asst. coach David Liu) and I penciled it out, we believed, if everything was perfect, an 11-7 win was possible and, at worst, the same score could go the other way.”

The match took a somewhat unexpected twist right away. CCA’s long time calling card has been its depth (this year’s roster count is 29) and doubles proficiency, which it has regularly utilized to overcome opponents with more top end individual firepower.

Retiring Head Coach Chris Black went out in style when his boys won their first Open Division title.
Retiring Head Coach Chris Black went out in style when his boys won their first Open Division title.
(Ken Grosse)

Saturday, the Ravens won the first rotation, 4-2, getting half of those points in singles. Senior Zach Pellouchoud and junior Rahul Machavarapu raced to a pair of 6-1 decisions, while their third singles entry, junior Jackson Codd, though falling 4-6 to Bishop’s Rex Harrison, made the Knights’ premier player grind for every point.

CCA’s surest doubles team, juniors Kyle Villeponteau and Franklin Liu, the latter a transfer from Torrey Pines, also posted a 6-1 victory and the No. 3 doubles grouping, Ryan Atwell and Jonathan Pham prevailed, 6-3.

So, not only were the Ravens in command by two points, but their massive first round differentials put them in the driver’s seat should the expected tight match wind up a tie with the winner being determined by total points.

“We really set the tone quickly and with three 6-1 scores in the first rotation, I knew it was going to be difficult for them to win,” said Black. “Since we had a big edge in a tiebreaker scenario, they were going to have to score at least 10 points to win it outright—their path to 10 seemed unclear to me.”

That possibility became even more doubtful when Canyon Crest posted another, 4-2, score in rotation No. 2, again collecting two each in singles and doubles and registering two more, 6-1, tallies. One of the singles victories came in the match of the day, featuring Pellouchoud and Harrison, who will be the Nos. 1-2 seeds in the upcoming CIF Singles (individual) Championships. The uber-consistent Pellouchoud built up a 5-2 edge and was on match point, only to see the relentless Harrison chip back to make it 5-5 and then 6-6. Buoyed by a huge ace at 4-3, Pellouchoud showed plenty of grit in conquering his junior foe, 7-6, in the tiebreaker.

Junior Jackson Codd
Junior Jackson Codd
(Ken Grosse)

“It was definitely a little frustrating, being up 5-2, but he did a great job fighting back,” said the Cal Poly-bound Pellouchoud. “One thing I always do when things aren’t going my way is take a few deep breaths, slow things down, try to talk to myself and figure out what’s going wrong.”

Not much went wrong for the combination of Liu and Villeponteau, who were put together for the first time earlier in the week. They were the only players to win three points on the afternoon (substitutes replaced several CCA players in the final rotation after the outcome was determined) and their performance caught Black’s eye.

“Everybody in the starting lineup scored at least one point but Franklin and Kyle were spectacular and dominant,” he said. “We hoped they could win all three, but by a combined score of 18-2? That’s crazy. I could easily make the case for them being the MVP’s today.”

The Ravens reached championship Saturday by knocking off No. 7-seed Eastlake, 13-5, in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Del Norte, 12-6, in the semi-finals.

Junior Rahul Machavarapu
Junior Rahul Machavarapu
(Ken Grosse)

Asked to reflect on the day and his four-year career, Pellouchoud went in several directions. “Both teams were strong, but I was pretty confident, ethough we were the lower-seeded team,” he said. “Even when things aren’t in your favor, you need to stay confident. That’s the first step in anything you do, have the belief that you can win—and we had that.

“I know it might sound cheesy, but everyone was really important today. Everyone fought as hard as they could from start-to-finish and we’re super appreciative of all our teammates who came out today even though they weren’t playing—that made a difference. I love my team.

“Overall, it feels pretty surreal right now. After coming up just short my freshman year, losing a season to CoVid, winning the coed season and now finally getting the boys’ championship kind of brings my career full circle. All of our hard work paid off with winning.”

Speaking of full circle, a rather significant sidebar to CCA’s 2022 crowning effort was the three-day-old announcement that Black will be stepping down as head coach to accept a non-coaching position as an English teacher at another San Dieguito High School District institution, San Dieguito Academy.

With word starting to filter out, Black shared the decision with his team following Wednesday’s match against Del Norte. The move was all about family.

“I have 11-year-old triplets who are three years away from starting high school at San Dieguito which is close to where we live,“ said Black. “I’ve kind of had this dream of teaching where my kids went to high school. My plan was to make the move when they entered high school but this position opened and I didn’t want to pass it by and then not have the opportunity there later.

“I’ve loved every minute at CCA and this program will always be very special to me. I’m so proud of everything we’ve built, but there’s a lot still to accomplish. There will be some amazing candidates and I feel like we’re leaving it in good shape.”

Pellouchoud no doubt spoke for his teammates and former CCA players when discussing Black’s decision. “It was a shocker, we’re all sad to see him go,” he said. “Personally, I can’t thank him enough. He made the CCA tennis program very special.

“He made us better tennis players and human beings. I felt like I was playing for a lot today—my teammates and Coach Black, as well.”


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