Team makes NorCal finals for the first time in 4 years

December 1, 2015 — by Caitlin Ju

Senior Shireen Haghshenas attributed the team’s success to its strong doubles pairings and supportive atmosphere.

The girls’ tennis team had already defied all odds when it placed second at Central Coast Section (CCS) playoffs and reached the Northern California Regional Championship on Nov. 20 as the No. 3 seed.

It continued to amaze when it beat the No. 2 seed, North Coast Section (NCS) champion Monte Vista from Danville in the semifinals 4-3. After a 5-2 loss to Menlo in the finals, the girls placed second overall in the NorCal tournament — a huge accomplishment for a team that struggled at times early in the season against top teams.

Coming into the tournament, the Falcons were certainly the underdogs, having lost four top-level players to outside-of-school tennis teams as the season started and not having reached the NorCal tournament in four years. The girls were also riding a high after their 4-3 win against Los Gatos in the CCS semifinals, which they had thought might be their last match.

Their win against Los Gatos also indicated they would have a  strong showing at the NorCal tournament. In the past 10 years, the two teams in the NorCal finals have always been CCS teams. The NorCal Championship includes the winners and sometimes finalists of NCS, the Sac-Joaquin Section, San Francisco Section, Oakland Section and Northern Section.

The Falcons demonstrated the power of CCS with a 5-2 win against No. 6 seeded Oak Ridge in the second round of the NorCal tournament. Since they were ranked No. 3 in the tournament, the Falcons enjoyed a first-round bye.

Junior doubles player Danielle Berkowitz-Sklar noted that they were careful not to underestimate the teams there, especially because of their experience at the Golden State Classic at Stanford, their first tournament of the season.

“In the Stanford tournament, in the beginning, we were too overconfident and lost badly in the first round,” Danielle said. “When we played Oak Ridge, though, we were a much higher seed; we took it game by game and did not focus too much on the reputation of the team we were playing.”

The match against Monte Vista was much closer, and nerves ran high when the team was down 3-2 with wins from junior No. 4 singles player Neeka Nikfar and seniors No. 3 doubles players Allison Lin and Meera Rachamallu. It came down to junior No. 2 singles player Caitlin Ju and No. 1 doubles pair Danielle and senior Shireen Haghensas, all  of whom went into the third set. Ju won 6-4, 1-6, 6-0, and Berkowitz-Sklar and Haghshenas won 6-4, 6-7, 6-2, securing the Falcons’ entrance into the NorCal finals, the team’s main goal all along.

Haghshenas attributed the team’s success to its strong doubles pairings and supportive atmosphere.

“Every time a team member finished her match, whether she won or lost, she would immediately cheer on everyone else,” Haghensas said. “We all became so close this season and always did what was best for the team, even if it meant switching partners or playing at a different number on the lineup.”

The girls were unable to defeat Menlo in the finals with only juniors Danielle and Daviana Berkowitz-Sklar at No. 2 doubles winning 6-7, 6-2, 10-5 and Lin and Rachamallu at No. 3 doubles winning 7-6, 4-6, 10-7.  

Nevertheless, senior co-captain Shaya Nikfar said finishing in second place at the NorCal tournament was a great way to end their season.

“This was the furthest we have come in four years, and it was best last season I could hope for,” Nikfar said. “I cannot be [prouder] of this team that has become my family.”