Tennis beats Los Gatos, heads to NorCal tourney

November 16, 2015 — by Allison Lin

Junior doubles player Danielle Berkowitz-Sklar prepares to hit a backhanded shot. 

It isn’t every season the girls’ tennis team makes it to the Central Coast Section (CCS) finals.

After a week of battling through each round of CCS, the Falcons landed in the finals against the No. 1 seed, Menlo. Though the Falcons lost 5-2 to the Knights, both Saratoga and Menlo will compete in Sacramento for the Northern California Regional Championship title on Nov. 20-21. And Los Gatos will be home.

For the Falcon team, this season has not been an easy road. After tying Los Gatos for the De Anza League Championship, the team entered the CCS playoffs as the No. 3 seed behind No. 1 Menlo and No. 2 Los Gatos. The Falcons lost a 4-3 match to the Wildcats on Nov. 6 that gave them the higher CCS seed.

Everything the girls worked for this season culminated in the final showdown with Los Gatos in the CCS semifinals. This was the fourth time the team faced the Wildcats this season. Having gained three nationally ranked players, Los Gatos posed the biggest threat to the Falcons all season and had won two of the first three meetings.

Arriving at the courts at 8:30 last Saturday morning, the Falcons warmed up their “thunder” serves and powerful cross-court forehands in preparation for tough matches against the Wildcats.

Within the first hour, it looked grim as the Wildcats swept the Falcons’ No. 1, 2 and 3 singles. However, things started to look brighter for the Falcons on the doubles courts as the doubles teams took control of their matches. The No. 2 doubles pair Daviana Berkowitz-Sklar and Elizabeth Lee secured a 6-3, 6-2 win. No. 3 doubles Meera Rachamallu and Allison Lin won 6-2, 6-1. At the No. 1 doubles court, junior Danielle Berkowitz-Sklar and senior Shireen Haghshenas struggled in the first set, losing 7-5. Regrouping, the pair came back to win the second and third sets.

The teams were tied at 3-3, and it all came down to Neeka against Wildcat Fiorella Chen at the No. 4 court. Having lost the first set, Neeka battled in the second set, often playing continuous rallies that lasted over three minutes each.

Both teams sat by the court, cheering and encouraging their respective players on every point. Eventually, Neeka gained a score lead in the third set against Chen, and surged ahead to finish the 3-hour match in the third set, 6-3. The Falcons rushed to Neeka’s court to celebrate their victory and a guaranteed spot in the NorCal tournament.

“Winning the league title has never been too difficult because our team has been the strongest in the area for many years,” Rachamallu said. “CCS has been harder in previous years, but our team is closer and tougher this year.”

The first round of CCS began on Nov. 10, but the Falcons received a bye and automatically advanced to round 2 on Nov. 11. The girls defeated Sacred Heart Cathedral 7-0 to move on to the quarterfinals the following day against Monta Vista. Having defeated the Matadors during the league season, the Falcons went into this match with confidence.

Junior No. 2 singles player Caitlin Ju moved into the No. 1 position to challenge the Matador’s No. 1 Leslie Ligier. Ju played a grueling match and ended up pulling an upset against powerhouse Ligier, 2-6, 6-2, 10-2. The Falcons won 6-1, advancing to the semifinals against Los Gatos.

Following the victory over Los Gatos, they faced perhaps the strongest team in California, Menlo. Rachamallu and Lin won their match against a strong No. 3 doubles pair, 6-0, 6-1. The Falcon pair chose to take each point slowly and waited for the perfect opening to slam the ball away. Ju also won her match against Menlo No. 2 singles player Alice Yao. Nonetheless, this was not enough to overcome the Knights, losing 5-2. The Falcons received the second place CCS title.

“I am proud of the way the girls approached and handled CCS,” coach Florin Marica said. “They showed more passion and determination for the sport than I have ever seen from them before and fought to win every match possible.”

The team is seeded No. 3 for the NorCal tournament. They received a bye for the first round again, and will face the No. 6 seed Oak Ridge in El Dorado Hills of the Sacramento-Joaquin Section.

Marica has high hopes for the team’s success in NorCal, even though no veteran player on the team has gone this far before.

“I am so pumped,” Ju said. “We are going to go into every single match with immense spirit and energy.”