It was more than a win, it was a statement.
The girls tennis team punched its ticket to the L.A. City Section finals in impressive fashion Tuesday afternoon, making quick work of Cleveland 7-0 to set up a high noon showdown against top-seeded Granada Hills on Friday at in Encino.
"It feels great to be in the finals at last," senior co-captain Perri Zaret said afterwards. "I want this so bad. I love our team, I'm very proud of everyone and I know we can do it."
Tuesday's semifinal started 45 minutes late because the bus dropped off the sixth-seeded Cavaliers at Palisades High's campus instead of at the where the match was to be played. The unexpected delay didn't phase the second-seeded Dolphins a bit, however, as it took a mere 70 minutes to put them within one point of victory.
Leading the charge were Zaret and No. 1 doubles partner Julie Takakjian, who kept the sheet clean against freshman Katherine Chavez and senior Vivian Huynh. The Dolphins' top duo has been nearly perfect this season, losing a total of five games in 12 sets. Two of those games came in last Friday's quarterfinal victory over Narbonne.
"They were much tougher than Narbonne, but we were at the top of our game today," Zaret said of the 6-0, 6-0 win. "Julie was really consistent and I was trying to be more aggressive and finish the points. There was a lot of nervous energy, especially having to wait around so long at the beginning, but I tried to take it one point at a time and not think about the finals."
The next to finish was senior Jessie Corneli, who rolled to a 6-1, 6-0 victory at No. 3 singles despite dropping her first service game to end a remarkable streak of 53 consecutive games won. She has played in the City Individual tournament every season but this will be her first trip to the team finals.
"As long as I win my match I'm happy," said Corneli, who upped her record to 15-2 this season. "All of my hard work paid off in the end. This is a lot different than at Individuals because it's not just me playing, everyone else is in it too."
Sophomore Katie Vincent wrapped up her own 6-1, 6-0 win shortly thereafter, giving the Dolphins their third point—one shy of the four needed to clinch in the best-of-seven format.
"We were hoping their doubles would be weaker and we could sneak out a point at No. 4 singles," said Cleveland Coach Derek Lowe, whose team was runner-up to Granada Hills in the West Valley League. "We didn't have a chance to warm up like we normally would and being in the semifinals is brand new for our girls. Palisades is used to this situation."
Freshman Izzy Guterson held serve at love to close out her 6-2, 6-1 win at No. 4 singles and earn the clinching point for the Dolphins, who fell in the semifinals to Granada Hills in 2009 and to El Camino Real last season.
"I didn't know what the score was," Guterson admitted. "My opponent was a lot harder than the one from Narbonne, though. She made me hit a lot more balls. I'm happy for the seniors and we want to send them out winners."
Moments after Guterson shook hands with her opponent, senior Emily Wettleson and junior Melody Wilkenfeld descended the path from the upper courts to report their 6-2, 6-4 victory at No. 3 doubles.
"I'm so happy for the seniors—Jessie, Perri and Emily—who have been working so hard to get to the finals before they graduate," Coach Sean Passan said after his team's second straight postseason shutout. "This is the round we've lost in the last two years, so I'm glad to get through it."
Freshman Diana Silvers was the last player to start Tuesday, but her match at No. 1 singles was a polar opposite of the tense three-setter she had against crafty Narbonne senior Neda Boni in the quarterfinals. This time, Silvers needed but 50 minutes to dispose of Cavaliers senior Nora Landes, 6-0, 6-0.
The closest match occurred at No. 2 doubles, where junior Katie Pfannkuche and freshman Jesse Zand overcame a 5-4 deficit in the second set to close out a 7-5, 7-5 victory. On the second match point, Zand ended matters with a volley winner at the feet of Cleveland's Julia Nguyen.
"It was pure desperation at the end because I did not want to play a third set," Pfannkuche said. "It was more us beating ourselves and making a lot of errors. They weren't a conventional team. They were both playing back, which we don't see a lot, so we didn't have those angles like we usually do."
Corneli has scored a point in all except one of her matches for the Dolphins this season and hopes to do so again Friday against Granada Hills (13-0), which is seeking its 10th City title and fourth in a row. The Dolphins won the last of their record 20 section crowns in 2007, the year before Passan took over the varsity program from Bud Kling.
"I just play, I don't look at the situation any differently," Corneli said. "You need four [points] to win, so if all the doubles win and one person in singles wins, that's enough. We're definitely qualified [to beat them] and it would be nice to do it so they won't be undefeated."
Granada Hills won just as impressively in Tuesday's other semifinal, dropping only one doubles set in its 7-0 victory over No. 4 Van Nuys. The Highlanders' four singles players lost a combined two games against the Wolves.
"We are definitely the underdog going up against Granada Hills," Passan said. "All we can do is play our best and hope to come out on top. We're a relatively young team, but I hope we can reward the few seniors with a championship."
Palisades 7, Cleveland 0
(1) Diana Silvers, Palisades, d. Nora Landes, 6-0, 6-0.
(2) Katie Vincent, Palisades, d. Michele Byk, 6-1, 6-0.
(3) Jessie Corneli, Palisades, d. Audrey Hahn, 6-1, 6-0.
(4) Izzy Guterson, Palisades, d. Sirai Thompson, 6-2, 6-1.
(1) Julie Takakjian-Perri Zaret, Palisades, d. Katherine Chavez-Vivian Huynh, 6-0, 6-0.
(2) Jesse Zand-Katie Pfannkuche, Palisades, d. April Kim-Julia Nguyen, 7-5, 7-5.
(3) Emily Wettleson-Melody Wilkenfeld, Palisades, d. Aileen Baik-Leesa Kim, 6-2, 6-4.
Records: Cleveland 12-4; Palisades 14-0-1.