Dolphins Are Ready to Make a Run at their Sixth Straight City Section Championship
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Anticipation might be the best word to describe the mindset of the Palisades High tennis players during Monday afternoon’s practice at the Palisades Recreation Center. The Dolphins are sharpening their skills for the upcoming season, which they hope and expect culminates in their sixth straight City Section championship.
Palisades lost three players to graduation (Alex Hart, Maddy Goore and Taylor Barfield) and three others (Kate Harrington, Gigi Feingold and Caroline Ross) decided not to return, but the Dolphins remain favored to continue their dynasty because of their depth.
“We should be pretty solid from No. 1 singles all the way through doubles… we have 11 or 12 girls competing for 10 starting spots,” said Coach Bud Kling, who has piloted the boys program since 1979 and the girls since 1984 and needs 27 wins to break the national prep record of 1,222 victories held by Robin Adair from Coronado in San Diego County. “Granada Hills will be tough to beat. They not only have [reigning City singles champion] Rena Lin, but they’ve added two very strong singles players.”
Kling has appointed Alex Miller as captain. She partnered with Ross to win the City doubles title as a junior last fall and has been active in LiveBall while working in the pro shop at Westwood Tennis Center.
“Being chosen captain is the biggest honor I can have,” Miller said. “When I was a freshman our captains were Maddy [Prins] and Lizzie [Belokonnyi]. I aspired to be like them. They had an aura of respect.”
Miller prefers doubles but is versatile enough to play anywhere the team needs her.
“I love doubles and Coach Kling hasn’t told me who I’ll be playing with but I know whoever it is will be amazing,” Miller said. “I’m bummed that Caroline didn’t come back but I totally respect her decision. Last year couldn’t have gone much better. I’m pretty good at the net and I’ve mostly been working on getting the timing down for poaching. I’ve also improved my serve, which was the weakest part of my game. Singles is insane and every doubles position is up for grabs… which makes for friendly competition. Our goal is to advance at least one round further in regionals.”
Topping the singles lineup once again are senior twins Ireland and Sophia Amato, who spent their summer at an academy in Philadelphia and competing in the Mid-Atlantic ITA Summer Series in preparation for their collegiate careers, where they consider themselves a “package deal” and hope to join a Division I or Division II program.
“I’ve worked on strategy the most and adapting to different styles,” Sophia said. “Playing the high-level tournaments we have has shown us that not everyone hits super hard. Some players have loopy strokes, some use a lot of slice. We’re playing six or seven days a week.”
Ireland, who played No. 1 singles last year, is stronger than she was then and is better equipped to construct points.
“We kept in touch with Coach Kling and he’s entered us in some real tough tournaments, which we appreciate,” Ireland said. “It’s sad that it’s our last year but we love the team aspect and I’m glad we’ll have played high schoool all four years. It’s been a fun experience.”
The Amatos are ranked 56th and 57th in doubles in Girls 18s in Southern California. They played for Pali High as freshmen, moved back east as sophomores to lead their hometown school in Easton, Pennsylvania to third in the state, then returned to Palisades to help the Dolphins calim the inaugural City Open Division title last fall.
Bolstering the singles lineup will be freshman Iris Berman, a highly-ranked junior from Paul Revere Middle School who won a USTA National Bronze Ball for third place in doubles in the Girls 14s and went 4-1 in singles at the Zonal Team Championships.
“I prefer singles because you have to think for yourself,” she said. “I just want to play and contribute as much as I can.”
Tenth-graders Halsey Hulse and Noe Winter, teammates since they were at Marquez Elementary, paired to reach the City doubles final last fall and are ready to go.
“I’m open to anything,” Winter said. “Confidence is the key.”
Added Hulse: “The older girls definitely helped us to succeed last year. We felt so much support.”
Another sophomore who contributed mightily last fall is Kalea Martin, who won the Dudley Cup doubles crown in April, then beat Miller 7-6, 6-4 in the singles final of the West Coast Spring Classic.
Happy to play singles or doubles is sophomore Sarah Slavkin.
“Last year I learned to take as much from practice as you can,” she said. “If you take it seriously it will help your game a lot.”
Junior Sophia Arvin further strengthens the team’s singles ladder. Also challenging for varsity spots will be Jessica Garff, Bliss Macdowell, Emma Akiyama, Claudia Goore and Ciara Kenney. The Dolphins open the season on Tuesday at Beverly Hills and travel to Santa Monica next Thursday.
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