As his team progresses through the final round of Western League competition the objective for girls tennis coach Sean Passan has been to integrate younger players into the lineup to give them varsity experience.
On Monday, Ann Tanaka played her first varsity singles set while fellow freshmen Piper Hays and Chandler Jenkins made their varsity debut at No. 3 doubles in the Dolphins' 6-1 victory at archrival Venice.
Tanaka, who had won 8-0 at No. 3 doubles with another freshman, Katie Scholl, in Palisades' 7-0 victory over University on Oct. 3, played like a veteran in beating Gondos senior Candy Perez 8-1 Monday.
Hays and Jenkins, meanwhile, started slow against freshman Chelsea Robinson and senior Kelsie Yahata, who had played No. 3 and No. 4 singles, respectively, for the Gondos in the first league meeting. The Dolphins duo got better as the match progressed but dug too deep a hole and lost 8-3. It marked the first doubles point Palisades has dropped in league play.
"We were playing their three and four singles but we held our own and we feel more accomplished now, having played varsity," said Hays, who attended Paul Revere Middle School. "Chandler and I are doubles partners [on junior varsity], so we're used to playing together. If we'd warmed up a little more and used a different strategy we would've won."
Her older brothers Paris and Mason Hays were stellar athletes at Pali High. Paris was a freestyler on the swim team that won three section titles (2003-05) in his four years while Mason played doubles for the Dolphins' back-to-back City championship tennis teams in 2005-06.
"One of them was really good, so we tried to hit it to the weaker player as much as we could," added Jenkins, who went to New West Charter School prior to Pali High. "We just need to work more on our serves and returns—everything else is good."
Hays and Jenkins trailed 7-2 when Passan offered them some advice on the changeover and his players responded by winning the next game at love.
"I was proud of them both and they learned a lot, which was the whole point," Passan said of Hays and Jenkins. "If they had started out playing the way they were at the end, it would've been a different outcome. It's about getting better so they'll be ready for varsity next season."
Having already won enough matches to qualify for the City Individual doubles tournament, the Dolphins' top duo of Perri Zaret and Julie Takakjian did not play together Monday. Passan rested Zaret and had Takakjian play No. 3 singles for the second time in three matches and once again, she posted an 8-0 victory.
"This girl was kind of a dinker and I've played against that style before," said Takakjian, who spent the summer honing her singles game after having played doubles with Emily Wettleson as a freshman last year. "She had a weak serve that barely went over, so I tried to put the points away as quickly as I could. I normally like to play from the baseline and move people around."
Junior Katie Pfannkuche and freshman Jesse Zand played No. 1 doubles for the third straight time and after two long and taxing encounters (against LACES and Westchester), they did not drop a game against Venice's Patricia Evangelista and Alexis Lucas, who had lost to Zaret and Takakjian in the teams' prior meeting.
Wettleson and junior Melody Wilkenfeld won 8-2 at the No. 2 spot against the same duo they beat 8-0 on Sept. 26.
Two freshmen engaged in a baseline duel at the No. 1 singles spot, but in the end Palisades' Diana Silvers had too much firepower and prevailed 8-2 over Jennifer Chew, who had given Dolphins senior Jessie Corneli a spirited fight before falling 8-6 in the first round of league.
"This was a productive match in that we had some players challenged today," said Passan, trying to keep his team in top form through the last week of the regular season. "It may not be indicative by the scores, but Diana got a good match, Emily and Melody were tested a little more than the first time and of course Chandler and Piper were up against two singles players."
First off the court Monday was Corneli, who tuned up for Wednesday's No. 1 singles showdown against Hamilton's Abby Esrock with an 8-0 victory at the No. 2 spot over Gondos sophomore Andie Ritter, who lost to Zand in the first round of league.
"I try not to look ahead—I concentrate on whoever I'm playing," said Corneli, who improved her singles mark to 10-2 this season. "I won't think too much about playing [Abby], I'm just going to get a good practice in tomorrow and work on my consistency. I felt bad because she was hurt when we played last year, so I won't have that advantage this time."
After a short rest, Corneli was right back on the court to play a doubles set for fun with Zaret and the warm-up took longer than the set, which the Dolphins duo won easily. Though it didn't offically count in the scoring, both players enjoyed the experience. For once, Corneli, who has played varsity singles all four years, had a chance to hit down the alleys.
"It was fun. It makes me wish we could play Individuals," Corneli said. "With my serve and her volleys I think we'd have a good chance."
Passan's initial intention was for Corneli and Zaret to play doubles together on Senior Day against Hamilton—the Dolphins' final home match—but Corneli is also trying to earn a berth into the City Individual singles tournament and a victory over Esrock would greatly improve her chances.
"I'm glad I got to play with Jessie today instead," said Zaret, who has done just fine with Takakjian, going undefeated thus far. "It's more important that Jessie play singles for the sake of Individuals, but I think we'd make a pretty awesome team."
Palisades 6, Venice 1
(1) Diana Silvers, Palisades, d. Jennifer Chew, 8-2.
(2) Jessie Corneli, Palisades, d. Andie Ritter, 8-0.
(3) Julie Takakjian, Palisades, d. Sindy Ayala, 8-0.
(4) Ann Tanaka, Palisades, d. Candy Perez, 8-1.
(1) Katie Pfannkuche-Jesse Zand, Palisades, d. Patricia Evangelista-Alexis Lucas, 8-0.
(2) Emily Wettleson-Melody Wilkenfeld, Palisades, d. Nancy Phuongthang-Kajal Suriya, 8-2.
(3) Piper Hays-Chandler Jenkins, Palisades, lost to Kelsie Yahata-Chelsea Robinson, 8-3.
Records: Palisades 9-0-1, 8-0; Venice 4-8, 4-6.