Derek Vincent Is ‘Captain Comeback’ for Cubs

Loyola High senior Derek Vincent swept his three singles sets against San Marino in the Southern Section playoffs. / Photo: Steve Galluzzo
Loyola High senior Derek Vincent swept his three singles sets against San Marino in the Southern Section playoffs. / Photo: Steve Galluzzo

Going into high school, Derek Vincent was a rising star on the junior tennis circuit.

Once ranked among the 20 best players in Southern California in his age division, the Palisades Highlands resident suffered a pair of catastrophic injuries that could have ended his prep career. Instead, two reconstructive knee surgeries later he’s back on the court as the senior captain at Loyola High.

“It’s great to play a full season for the first time since I was a sophomore,” said Vincent, who used to train regularly at the Palisades Tennis Center with friends Ben Goldberg and Lucas Bellamy, both varsity singles players at Palisades High. “Seeing everyone else progress while I was hurt was tough, but I didn’t focus on the negatives.”

While playing a USTA tournament his freshman year, Vincent suffered a torn MCL and cracked knee cap, sidelining him for eight months.

He returned the next year and  had a strong showing at the CIF Individuals, but before his junior year, at another national event, he  sustained the same injury – this time to his other knee – and was out of action until the playoffs.

Vincent was voted team captain his senior year and led the Cubs to the second round of the Southern Section Division I playoffs, winning two out of three sets at No. 1 singles in a 12-6 first-round victory over Marina, then sweeping top-seeded San Marino’s five-star singles lineup of Ryan Cheng, Connor Lee and Derek Chen – all by 6-4 scores — in Loyola’s 14-4 season-ending defeat.

Earlier that same week he committed to UC Berkeley, writing out a list of pros and cons before making his decision. Four years ago he was faced with a similar dilemma – where to attend high school.

“My mom wanted me to go to Pali and my dad wanted me to go to Loyola,” said Vincent, whose older sister Katie captained Palisades’ girls squad to the section championship in 2013 and whose younger sister Caroline is a sophomore at Pali High and won the City singles title in the fall. I’m so happy with my choice.”

In April, Vincent reached the round of 16 at the Ojai Tournament – the furthest any Loyola player has advanced in eight years under head coach Brian Held, whose younger sister Amber played soccer and volleyball at Palisades and won the Post Cup Award in 2002 as the school’s outstanding senior athlete.

“I was glad to see Derek finish his Loyola career with such gusto,” Held said. “He has so much talent and he’s never let his injuries get in the way of his determination. Sweeping San Marino, which has three of the best players in the entire Southland, was remarkable. More importantly, though, he’s been a tremendous leader and captain for us. Everyone knew Derek was there for the team, not just for himself. That’s why all his teammates lined the fences and cheered so loudly when he took down San Marino’s No. 1 player Ryan Cheng in dramatic fashion.”

Vincent grew up playing Pinto in the Pacific Palisades Baseball Association, AYSO soccer in Region 69 and flag football at the Palisades Recreation Center. When he’s not playing tennis he’s hanging out at Tower 15 at Will Rogers State Beach, surfing and spending time with his girlfriend.

After finishing second in the Mission League, Vincent again qualified for the Individual tournament, where he faces Alex Zhang of Sherman Oaks Buckley in the opening round today in Carpinteria. With graduation on the horizon, he knows his days in a Cubs uniform are numbered.

“I’m really looking forward to playing Individuals because I know every match could be my last one in high school,” Vincent said. “I want to end on a positive note.”

— Steve Galluzzo