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Pali High Tennis Aces Final Tests

The Dolphins wrap up league against Fairfax and University.

If their last two Western League matches are any indication, girls tennis team is primed for the postseason.

After winning 6-1 Thursday at winless Fairfax, the Dolphins registered their fifth shutout in league play, beating host University 7-0 Friday at Stoner Park in West Los Angeles.

Now, at long last, they can concentrate on their ultimate goal: the City Section championship.

"Going undefeated in league is certainly a great accomplishment, but this season we have higher expectations," Coach Sean Passan said. "This is a good first step, but we still haven't done what we set out to do."

Palisades took the bite out of the Lions early, as senior Jessie Corneli and junior Caitlin Roshani posted quick singles victories while junior Katie Pfannkuche paired with Jesse Zand to notch the Dolphins' third point at No. 1 doubles.

Corneli, the Sportsmanship Award recipient at the City Individual tournament last season, plays with joy and politeness seldom seen in competitive tennis.

"I try not to take it too seriously because then it becomes more like a duty," she said after blanking Fairfax's Sonia Kim in just under 20 minutes. "I always try to be friendly and not make them bitter towards me. Sometimes it really ticks my opponents off and they don't play as well."

The only speck of drama occurred at the end of the No. 2 doubles matchup, where Jessica Zionts and Honour Norman settled for an 8-1 victory after a point was replayed because the teams couldn't agree on whether a ball was in or out.

"It would've been 8-0 except for that," said Zionts, playing her first varsity match of the season. "They walked over to talk to their coach and I said we should do it over, which we did. It's unfortunate that it happened on game point. Next season I want to play doubles with Sara [Freedland] since we'll both be seniors."

Freedland and freshman Izzy Guterson were up 5-0 in their pro set at No. 3 doubles, but Guterson was experiencing pain in her lower back and thought it best not to continue.

"I had a long singles match last week against Westchester and when I woke up the next morning my back was killing me," Guterson said. "I iced it and today it was still hurting so I decided to stop." 

Passan backed his player 100 percent.

"We would've won 7-0 instead of 6-1, but it was a very wise choice," he said. "There just wasn't any reason to continue and possibly make it worse. Especially with the playoffs coming up."

Against Fairfax, doubles partners Alexa Ebner and Julia Levitan each got a chance to play varsity singles for the first time this season.

"It was a really fun match, it was great to play at the No. 2 spot and the girl I played was really nice," said Ebner, who won her pro set 8-2. "I'm used to playing doubles with Julia so this was a good way to practice my singles game."

As for Levitan, she blanked Amy Kim 8-0 at the No. 4 spot.

"I enjoy playing doubles with Alexa and it's improved my singles game," she said. "I hit a lot of angles, deep shots and basically just tried to make her move. She was hitting lots of unforced errors. I'm fine playing wherever I'm most needed. We have a really strong group of singles players."

Friday's match marked the fourth in five days for Palisades, yet the Dolphins showed no signs of fatigue, rolling to an easy victory even with two singles starters (Diana Silvers and Katie Vincent), a No. 2 doubles player (Pfannkuche) and the No. 3 doubles team of Emily Wettleson and Melody Wilkenfeld sitting out.

Joining forces for the first time since the previous tussle with the Wildcats on Oct. 3, senior Perri Zaret and sophomore Julie Takakjian had little rust at No. 1 doubles in an impressive 8-0 victory that kept their perfect record intact. They have won 58 of 61 games in eight sets together this season.

"That was good to see," Passan said of his top tandem. "I wanted to give them one more match to stay sharp before the playoffs and they picked up right where they left off." 

Freshman Jesse Zand, who normally plays No. 2 doubles with Pfannkuche, showed that the doubles matches have not thrown off her singles game in the least, as she breezed 8-0 at the No. 2 position. Norman won 8-3 at No. 3 and Zionts earned her team a point in her first varsity singles match this season with an 8-2 triumph at No. 4.

Emily Goore and Alex Genina teamed up for the second time on varsity and won 8-6 at No. 2 doubles. They had won at No. 3 doubles in the Dolphins' first match against Venice.

Also reuniting were freshman Brooke Cullen and junior Shadi Hedayati, who had teamed up to win 8-0 at No. 3 doubles against Hamilton two days prior and did the same against University, blanking the Wildcats' Monet Maeda and Kathrine Robles. Cullen's older sister Kathryn played on Palisades' last three City championship teams under former girls coach (and current boys coach) Bud Kling.

Corneli's 11th consecutive singles victory capped an impressive week in which she did not drop a game in four pro sets, three at No. 1 and one at the No. 2 spot. Savoring every moment of her final regular season match, the four-year varsity singles starter improved to 13-2 this fall. Her last defeat was over a month ago to Yvonne Likomanova of Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies in the Dolphins' league opener.

"It's kind of weird to think this is my last league match in high school," said Corneli, who was cheered on by her 12-year-old brother Jack, a student at . "It started sinking in at the pep rally today. The time has gone by so fast. When I was in ninth grade I never understood the whole seniority thing, but now I feel like a shepherd and I'm sort of herding them because I've been in their shoes."

Reflecting on her career, Corneli remembers her freshman year most fondly because of the friends she made and confidence she gained through tennis.

"Ninth grade really set the tone for me because when I got to Pali I didn't think I was good compared to everyone else," Corneli recalled. "Winning at USTA tournaments was a really big deal. Then all of a sudden I was playing on the team and contributing. I felt better with myself and that gave me more self-esteem."

Having gone unblemished through the regular season, the Dolphins now wait to see where they are positioned for the playoffs. The City Section seeding committee meets Monday night and Palisades is likely to be seeded second in the upper division behind Granada Hills, which is after its fourth straight title. The top four schools in the 12-team draw get first-round byes Wednesday and host quarterfinal matches Friday.

The seeding committee will also select 24 singles players and 24 doubles teams to participate in the Individual tournament, which begins Nov. 8 at Balboa Sports Center in Encino.

MATCH SUMMARIES

Thursday, Oct. 20

Palisades 6, Fairfax 1

SINGLES

(1) Jessie Corneli, Palisades, d. Sonia Kim, 8-0.

(2) Alexa Ebner, Palisades, d. Bobbie Depriest, 8-1.

(3) Caitlin Roshani, Palisades, d. Shantel Green, 8-1.

(4) Julia Levitan, Palisades, d. Amy Kim, 8-0.

DOUBLES

(1) Katie Pfannkuche-Jesse Zand, Palisades, d. Rene Joson-Ji Yun Ulm, 8-0.

(2) Jessica Zionts-Honour Norman, Palisades, d. Chelsea Le-Klavdiya Lanovenko, 8-1.

(3) Sara Freedland-Izzy Guterson, Palisades, lost to Kimberly Perez-Farangis Mansurova, 5-0, retired (injury).

Records: Palisades 11-0-1, 10-0; Fairfax 0-10, 0-10.

Friday, Oct. 21

Palisades 7, University 0

SINGLES

(1) Jessie Corneli, Palisades, d. Amira Heath, 8-0.

(2) Jesse Zand, Palisades, d. Najjiya Coussey, 8-0.

(3) Honour Norman, Palisades, d. Ellaine Mallari, 8-3.

(4) Jessica Zionts, Palisades, d. Adrianna Brown, 8-2.

DOUBLES

(1) Julie Takakjian-Perri Zaret, Palisades, d. Clara Fu-Gabby Zavaleta, 8-0.

(2) Emily Goore-Alex Genina, Palisades, d. Lillian Lee-Robin Willis, 8-6.

(3) Brooke Cullen-Shadi Hedayati, Palisades, d. Monet Maeda-Katherine Robles, 8-0.

Records: Palisades 12-0-1, 11-0; University 3-11, 2-10.

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