The boys varsity tennis team gathered before practice, from left, Coach Karina Ward, Eamon Hornish, Ben Pestana, David Newhall, Desmond Chan, Sigmund Goodstein, Evan Strittmatter, Daniel Kim and David Sohn. Photo by Hongtan Chen

Karina Ward is a champion tennis player. She has overcome many obstacles since emigrating here from her country of origin, Kazakhstan. So, she did not hesitate when last season, she was asked to take over the varsity boys tennis team that had fallen on some challenging times.

“We didn’t do too well last year,” Ward said during an interview before practice this week. “We lost to everyone in our league, including Temple City. The scores were pretty wide. There was a big spread. So, it wasn’t a close loss. It was pretty lopsided. So the only team we beat was Monrovia. Both times…From what I understand we’ve been fourth for the last five, six years.”

But Ward believes that this team is special and has excellent players, who just need to find the right combination of practice and experience to advance to greater heights.

Sigmund Goodstein
Photo by Joseph Ruiz

Ward’s confidence comes from coaching for the past eight years as well as playing championship tennis herself during her college years. Also, she says her team this year has excellent players.

Ward also is a realist and said it’s going to be difficult to advance to CIF because her league has Div. 1 teams, La Canada and San Marino, and Div. 2, Temple City (TC). So Pas is Div. 3.

“We crushed Monrovia (Div. 3) but again in order to kind of breakthrough and make it to CIF we have to finish the top three in our league, which means most of the time the weakest team we have to beat is Temple City,” she said.

Ironically, that was the same scenario Ward faced last fall with the girls varsity tennis squad. She was looking to beat Temple City at least once to get the girls into CIF. The girls not only beat Temple City once, they beat them twice.

Although defeated in the CIF quarterfinals, the varsity girls tennis established itself as able to compete at the highest levels. It was Ward’s rookie season as the girls head coach.

The loss to Huntington Beach High School (HBHS), 13-5, in the quarterfinals was somewhat misleading because the Tigers dominated singles but couldn’t keep up during doubles competition.

This was the first time in recent memory that the girls varsity tennis team got to the quarterfinals.

David Newhall
Photo by Joseph Ruiz

Ward said the boys can do this as well. They just need to practice and commit.

“It’s almost hard to think we’re going to beat San Marino or La Cañada,” Ward said about the boys team. “It’s a bit out of our league. Just because of the depth of both of their teams.  But Temple City is always a toss-up, just to see who’s on the team and who’s on our team.”

A common opponent indicated the boys are going to have a tough time with TC, she said.

TC played Crescenta Valley this week and whipped them, 11-7, while So Pas lost to Crescenta Valley in its first match of the preseason, 13-5.

“Realistically speaking, I know it’s going to be a tough match but I never want to say that we’re out because they may have somebody out for the day or somebody may be injured, plus we have two-and-half weeks before we play them,” Ward said. “It looks like it’s going to come down to our doubles because I think our singles are strong, so I think what we need is to definitely work on our doubles but the majority of our team on doubles played on JV last year. They’re young. We only have one senior on the team.”

David Newhall
Photo by Joseph Ruiz

The Rio Hondo League has five teams competing in boys varsity tennis this year. They are La Canada, San Marino, Monrovia, South Pasadena and Temple City.

If the boys varsity team follows the girls success, they are going to go into the CIF playoffs as winners and maybe even start a tradition of winning. That’s certainly Ward’s hope and she believes it’s attainable.

The main thing a coach brings to the table is leadership, Ward says, but it’s the players that do the work and play the game. Ward looks at this boys squad and she sees an abundance of talented young men that can play tennis.

“When matches come around, everyone wants to play, everyone wants to do well, everybody wants to win” she said. “We actually have a lot of athleticism. A lot of natural talent. I’m hoping they can rise to their potential because there is a lot of it. We’re good and I want them to believe that. Anything can happen.”

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Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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