Pali High Girls Tennis Blanks Gondos

The Dolphins win 7-0 and remain undefeated in Western League play.

On the scoresheet, Monday afternoon's Western League meeting with Venice will go down as a routine 7-0 victory for the girls tennis team. In reality, it was so much more than a ho-hum outing for several players.

Palisades' No. 2 doubles duo of Emily Wettleson and Melody Wilkenfeld finished their set in record time and the win felt especially gratifying to junior Caitlin Roshani, who celebrated her "Sweet 16" birthday by partnering with freshman Alexandra Kugler to triumph 8-0 at No. 3 doubles.

Five days earlier, Dolphins Coach Sean Passan let reserves Annie Gingold and Lauren Sedmak play varsity for the league opener against Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies and they needed only 18 minutes to win their eight-game pro set. 

"I was aware of it and I wanted to win even faster, but I didn't want to put added pressure on Melody so I didn't tell her," said Wettleson, one of the Dolphins' senior co-captains. "It took us 14 minutes including the time it took for changeovers and when [Coach] Passan came over to talk to us after the seventh game. The rallies were real short because they hit most of their returns out."

She wasn't keeping track, but Wettleson guessed the opponents won "four or five points." The pro set started at exactly three o'clock on Monday and by 3:14 the teams were at the net shaking hands. Having established a new season best, Wettleson and Wilkenfeld barely had time to report their score and grab a few snacks before Roshani and Kugler finished off Venice's Sindy Ayala and Jayleen Yen.

"This is my third year on the team, I've always been a doubles player and it's tough finding a partner to move up to varsity with for usually one match a season," Roshani said. "Me and Alex make a good team, though, because I'm good at net, she's good at the back and has a strong serve. I just tried to play aggressively."

Kugler is also one of the Dolphins' reserves and admitted to feeling jitters in her first varsity match.

"It was a little scary," she said. "Both [Venice] girls were juniors so they're older and I wasn't sure how good they'd be. One girl had a weak [backhand] and I just hit it down the alley."   

To build team chemistry this season, Passan asked his juniors and seniors to mentor younger players and Roshani's "little sister" is freshman Jesse Zand, who gave her a birthday cake.

Zand took the court right after Roshani and did her "big sister" proud by bageling Venice sophomore Andie Ritter at No. 2 singles. Across the parking lot at the 's lower courts, Palisades' top tandem of Perri Zaret and Julie Takakjian won 8-1. Since joining forces in the LACES match they have won 34 of 37 games together.

Singles players Diana Silvers and Katie Vincent sat out Monday's match. Junior Katie Pfannkuche filled in at the No. 3 spot and beat Gondoliers freshman Chelsea Robinson 8-1.   

Making the most of her opportunity to play on varsity, junior Sara Freedland displayed nerves of steel in beating Venice senior Kelsie Yahata 8-0 at No. 4 singles.

"I saw that she hits in a very odd way so I maneuvered her around a lot," said Freedland, whose "little sister" is freshman Izzy Guterson, who made the most of her chance to play varsity by winning 8-1 at No. 4 singles against LACES. "I call myself chopped liver because that's what I feel like sometimes. I play anywhere. I don't have a preference. Coach [Passan] gives everyone a chance to play a varsity match, which I like."

While her teammates were all enjoying easy victories, No. 1 singles player Jessie Corneli had to call on her four years of varsity experience to outlast scrappy Venice freshman Jennifer Chew, daughter of former Venice boys coach Randy Chew.

The first game lasted almost as long as Wettleson and Wilkenfeld's entire set, but after six deuces Corneli finally broke her opponent's serve. Corneli forged a 7-4 lead, but Chew crept to within one game before the Dolphins senior held serve to close out the set, 8-6.

"I always have to work on that, having patience against the players who don't hit with a lot of pace," Corneli said. "I like playing people who are better than me and hit the ball hard because I can slow it down. My slice backhand—that's my safety shot. I get annoyed when I lose so it's nice being able to lead the team." 

Corneli's "little sister" is ninth-grader Honour Norman and Corneli has enjoyed the role. She recalled when she was a freshman and her "big sister" was a senior singles player, Anne Doyle. 

"We have a lot in common, we bonded," said Corneli, who lives in Inglewood but knows Pacific Palisades "inside and out," having attended and .

Venice lost all four of its singles players and its No. 1 doubles team to graduation and Coach Mike Finegold, now in his 15th year, knows his young Gondoliers must improve if they hope to make the upper division playoffs.

"Pali is always one of the best in the City," said Finegold, who will replace Chew as boys coach in the spring. "I measure our success on how well we play. If we play poorly and win, I will be less pleased than if we play well and lose. Against a team like this the goal is to be competitive in one or two sets."


Palisades 7, Venice 0


(1) Jessie Corneli, Palisades, d. Jennifer Chew, 8-6.

(2) Jesse Zand, Palisades, d. Andie Ritter, 8-0.

(3) Katie Pfannkuche, Palisades, d. Chelsea Robinson, 8-1.

(4) Sara Freedland, Palisades, d. Kelsie Yahata, 8-0.


(1) Julie Takakjian-Perri Zaret, Palisades, d. Patricia Evangelista-Alexis Lucas, 8-1.

(2) Emily Wettleson-Melody Wilkenfeld, Palisades, d. Nancy Phuongthang-Kajal Suriya, 8-0.

(3) Alexandra Kugler-Caitlin Roshani, Palisades, d. Sindy Ayala-Jayleen Yen, 8-0.

Records: Venice 0-5, 0-2; Palisades 3-0-1, 2-0.

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