2010-03-26 / Sports

Royal, Simi tennis teams building off strong preseasons

By Eliav Appelbaum eliav@theacorn.com

RETURN TO SENDER—Simi Valley High’s Shauyon Bahktinimoo returns a shot during Tuesday’s Marmonte League match against Royal. The Highlanders prevailed in a nip-and-tuck contest, 10-8. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers RETURN TO SENDER—Simi Valley High’s Shauyon Bahktinimoo returns a shot during Tuesday’s Marmonte League match against Royal. The Highlanders prevailed in a nip-and-tuck contest, 10-8. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers When the going gets tough . . . the tough try to keep up.

That’s what the Simi Valley and Royal high boys’ tennis teams will keep in mind while scaling the rugged Marmonte League terrain.

The Pioneers will compete for a playoff spot against powers Westlake, Calabasas and Thousand Oaks, the reigning CIFSouthern Section Division 1 champs. There might be a tussle for fourth place with Newbury Park, which has nabbed fourth the past two years.

Royal’s boys will try to pick up victories whenever they can against other rebuilding teams like Moorpark and Agoura.

Simi Valley scraped past Royal 10-8 at home on Tuesday in the first of two matches between the rivals.

The Pioneers improved to 6-3 overall while the Highlanders fell to 4-2 after Tuesday.

The Pioneers, who have a team grade-point average of 3.7, have plenty of options at doubles.

“We have no superstars but some nice depth,” SVHS head coach Rob Wickwire said. “The great thing is when you have four doubles teams that could play varsity. We have challenge matches that push them a lot more.

“In the past, it would be like, ‘I’m playing varsity no matter how I do in practice.’ This way, they’re a little more intense and working harder in practice. That’s been a real plus this year.”

The SVHS doubles tandems are Nick Lee/Christian Nerseyan, Chris Noah/Shauyon Bahktinimoo, Alex Pae/Abhinov Rana and Tommy Nguyen/Jed Liu. Noah, a senior, is the captain.

“He has good leadership skills,” the coach said of Noah. “If anyone screws around, he cracks the whip well. The kid loves to condition—that’s a huge plus.”

Singles standout David Phan is a consistent player with an allaround game. The sophomore’s not afraid to charge the net and drop shots and mix in plenty of power salvos.

“Every time he goes out there he always gives 100 percent,” Wickwire said of Phan. “He usually never has a bad day. The only person to beat him is his opponent. I don’t have to worry about him beating up on himself.”

Sophomore Nathan Shirley and junior Goutam Kirsh are the regular starters at singles for Simi Valley. They both like to work the baselines.

Shirley frustrates foes with his style.

“He’s by far our most consistent player,” the coach said of the sophomore.

Kirsh is a solid player who uses ground strokes effectively.

Wickwire, who has guided the boys’ and girls’ teams for 15 seasons, said one of the most difficult aspects of the job is balancing the emotional rollercoaster doubles tandems go through.

This year, however, the drama has been more subdued.

“The toughest thing is chemistry with who plays best with who in doubles,” said Wickwire, who teaches statistics and algebra at SVHS.

“With guys, it’s crazy from week to week. They’ll like each other or hate each other. After one or two bad games, it opens them up to bickering. But I like the team chemistry. They’re coming together.”

Royal went undefeated in nonleague action by disposing of Oak Park, Hart, St. Bonaventure and Golden Valley.

The Highlanders have embraced two quality seniors who didn’t play as juniors.

Kyle Hodgkinson was on the marching band drumline last year. His doubles partner, Ross Pineda, took an Advanced Placement Spanish class during sixth period that conflicted with his tennis schedule in 2009.

Hodgkinson and Pineda dropped only one set in their first five matches.

Royal head coach Roger Hixon is glad to have the duo creating havoc on the court.

“They’re very consistent,” Hixon said. “They serve well and they communicate well. They don’t get on each other. They’re not negative, and they have very good skills.”

Adam Patrella is playing well at the top singles spot. He’s strong at serving and smacking ground strokes.

“He’s a perfectionist at practice,” Hixon said of Patrella. “For a freshman, he’s really good.”

Minh Vo, a senior, is also playing singles. The coach said Vo has steadily improved his game through hard work and a positive attitude.

Sophomore Curtis Hixon is playing singles for the first time. He has played better than the coach anticipated, and he could be an imposing threat by his junior or senior season.

Seniors Patrick Chu and Shoaib Azimi have played doubles together for two seasons. Azimi is a bigger guy who likes to play at the net, while Chu can hammer the ball from the back.

Chu’s positive vibes are infectious, Hixon said.

“Patrick always has a good time,” the fourth-year coach said. “It’s hard to play with Patrick and get down. You can get so frustrated in tennis.”

Freshman Niels Pineda and senior Nathan Chandler form another potent doubles tandem.

Patrella, Curtis Hixon and Niels Pineda form a strong, young nucleus.

“They are the future of the program,” the coach said.

Roger Hixon hopes his Highlanders can progress over the course of the season. He’s also looking forward to the Simi Valley rematch.

“We get a chance to play every league team twice,” he said. “Hopefully, each time we play them, or the second time we play them, we are improved.

“It would be nice for us to beat Simi. We’re rivals. . . . I would just like us to make strides.”

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