By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Before the start of last Wednesday’s City Section Open Division girls tennis final, Palisades High Coach Bud Kling was told there were only six courts available, so the last match would have to wait until one opened up at Balboa Sports Center in Encino.
Knowing the outcome may rest on her shoulders, captain Alex Miller volunteered for the pressure-packed position and three hours later she and partner Emma Akiyama embraced after a crown-clinching 6-2, 6-2 triumph over Maddie Davenport and Anisa Londhe at No. 1 doubles that gave the Dolphins a 4-3 victory over Granada Hills.
“Alex said ‘I’ll do it… I want the ball in my court,’” Kling said after the rival schools’ seventh finals meeting in eight years. “Now that’s what you call senior leadership!”
It was a familiar scenario for Miller, who as a sophomore teamed with Kate Harrington to nail down the clinching point in Palisades’ 5-2 victory over the Highlanders in the team finals in 2016 and paired with Caroline Ross to win the City Individual doubles title last fall.
“We didn’t want it to be tied 3-3 but I kind of expected it would be,” Miller said. “I had a good idea what the situation was when our match started and I knew if we got our serves in we could outplay them. I keep telling myself one word—confidence—and I say it over and over until I believe it.”
Miller’s poach volley set up match point for Akiyama, a sophomore who wasn’t in the lineup when the Dolphins blanked Cleveland 7-0 to win the City’s inaugural Open Division title last year. Akiyama’s volley to Londhe’s feet couldn’t be returned and the Dolphins celebrated after singing “Happy Birthday” to junior Sophia Arvin.
“We went on later and I was nervous watching everyone else play, but Alex was really cheerful and helped loosen me up,” Akiyama said.
Sophomores Halsey Hulse and Kalea Martin started the Dolphins’ doubles sweep with a 6-0, 6-0 win at No. 2 and junior Bliss Macdowell paired with sophomore Sarah Slavkin to win 6-4, 6-1 at the No. 3 spot.
It was Palisades’ sixth straight City championship—the second in the four-team Open Division—and its 26th since the sport was sanctioned by the City in 1973.
“This was the toughest of the six,” said Kling, who captured his 45th City title (19th with the girls) on his 36th wedding anniversary. “I predicted in August it could be anywhere from 4-3 them to 5-2 us. I knew we had to have No. 4 singles just in case we lost the top three so we put someone there we were confident would do well and Noe Winter did a great job. We contemplated splitting up Halsey and Kalea at No. 2 but I pushed Sarah and Bliss hard leading up to today and we had faith in them as a duo. This was a really nice win for everyone who played. Our birthday girl Sophia did nothing wrong. She was a starter for two years but there just wasn’t a spot for her today. She was so helpful in practice competing to make the lineup and helping other girls.”
Senior twins Ireland and Sophia Amato played No. 1 and No. 2 singles and freshman Iris Berman played No. 3. Ireland Amato lost 6-0, 6-0 to Yale-bound Rena Lin, the top player in the City the last four years.
“I knew she was going to be really tough and I tried my hardest but she has great placement,” Ireland said. “It feels rewarding to have a team like this to win with.”
“The whole team is awesome and it’s nice to know you contributed, win or lose,” added Sophia, will join her sister next fall at Saint Joseph’s University, a Division I program in Philadelphia.
Winter shook off early jitters to beat Highlanders junior Brianna Perez, 6-1, 6-1, and secure Palisades’ crucial singles victory.
“I was happy to play singles,” Winter said. “I could tell the doubles were winning, so I had to step up and get us a singles point.”