By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Going out on top.
That was the motivation for Palisades High tennis player Ireland Amato in Tuesday afernoon’s City Individual singles final at Birmingham High in Lake Balboa.
Knowing it was the last match of her high school career, the Dolphins’ senior gave it her all, saving two match points in the second set on her way to winning four straight games before falling, 6-1, 6-4, to Granada Hills freshman Liza Tankimovich.
“I almost came all the way back,” said Amato, the No. 2 seed in the 32-player draw. “I was just trying to hit high and heavy to her backhand to stay in the points. I didn’t see her play much befofe today because she was always playing at the same time I was, but she was being a lot more agressive. She’s definitely one of the best girls I’ve played in high school.”
Amato was matched against a familiar opponent in Monday’s semifinals—her twin sister Sophia. The two battled from the baseline for three scintillating sets before Ireland prevailed, 1-6, 6-1, 6-1. It was the first time they faced off since 10th grade when they met in the district semifinals in Pennsylvania when Ireland won in a third-set tiebreaker.
“You don’t want to lose to your sibling, but she was setting up the points better and moving me around in the first set,” said Ireland, who will room with her sister at Saint Joseph’s University next fall. “I was just mad. I wanted to break a racquet.”
Ireland broke to start the second set and carried that momentum through the next six games and into the third set.
“She started hitting the ball deeper and I was missing more,” said Sophia, who took third-place by default when her opponent failed to show up Tuesday. “On the court, we’re competitive and we’ve had some really weird scores, but no matter what happens or who wins we don’t stay mad at each other. We might talk about it a little but that’s it.”
At the postmatch medal ceremony, Sophia was surprised when she was presented the Sportsmanship Award for her exemplary behavior on and off the court. The Amatos were happy to finish their prep careers in California, where they have been training.
Palisades captain Alex Miller partnered with sophomore Emma Akiyama to try to win her second consecutive City doubles title, but they fell 6-1, 6-1 to top-seeded Rena Lin and Maddie Davenport from Granada Hills.
“They are both really strong players so we were trying to cut down our unforced errors and get to balls at the net when we could,” said Miller, a senior who won the doubles crown with Caroline Ross last fall. “It was a different feeling knowing this is the last time I’m going to wear this outfit for the team but there was less to lose this time because we were playing the No. 1 seed. We weren’t expected to win.”
Miller and Akiyama lost a tight first set, 6-4, to teammates Halsey Hulse and Kalea Martin in the semifinals Monday, but Hulse suffered a severe allergic reaction and had to be taken to the hospital.
“I told them ‘we’re sorry, you deserved it,’” Miller said. “On the bigger points we got more hesitant and made more mistakes.”
Akiyama also felt bad that her opponents had to retire up one set.
“Halsey and Kalea both play at a high level—there’s no gap between them. It doesn’t feel good to win like that.”
Hulse courageously returned the following day for the third-place match and the Palisades pair overcame an early service break to prevail 6-4, 7-5 over Granada Hills’ Anisa Londhe and Jennifer Parandian.
“I wasn’t going to play today but when I woke up I was feeling better,” said Hulse, who teamed with Noe Winter to reach the doubles finals last fall. “This match was more of a challenge for us than the team finals.”
Added Martin: “We knew we could win if we played our game. Poaching is a big deal and we were outhitting them in the rallies, so we just had to clean things up.”