The Long Beach Poly girls’ tennis team made history on Friday, but they had to earn it. After a two-hour delay at the Claremont Club in sweltering heat, the Jackrabbits took the court for the CIF Southern Section Division 4 championships. It was a nailbiter right down to the end, but Poly did something for the first time in the school’s long and storied history–the Jackrabbits won a girls’ tennis CIF-SS championship, defeating San Dimas 10-8.
Head coach Douglas Schlueter didn’t have much time to process the victory. Schlueter volunteers with the Long Beach AYSO chapter coaching a team for special needs. Just a few short hours after his team’s CIF-SS win, he was up getting ready to coach his other team Saturday morning.
“I honestly haven’t even had time to settle in with it yet,” he said. “I will say that when I walked out into my living room this morning and saw the gold plaque, there was a little fingerprint on it–I had to wipe it off and leave it looking nice before I left.”
It’s a remarkable accomplishment for a Jackrabbit program that has produced so many notable alumni. Although she didn’t play at Poly–because Title IX hadn’t created formalized girls’ sports programs–the school boasts American sports icon Billie Jean King among its alums. Vania King was a Wimbledon doubles champion, and was on the Poly girls team that lost in the championship in 2003, the only other time the Jackrabbits made it to the CIF-SS Finals.
“We’re all riding high right now,” said Schlueter. “It’s an honor to be a part of the Poly family and add to the lineage of championships, and just keep adding on. I’m honored to even be a part of this school, and our girls are amazing.”
The Jackrabbits’ strategy throughout their playoff run was to rely on the depth of their doubles flights, and that strategy worked out again Friday. Poly won the doubles points 6-3, as the duos of Reina El Khoury/Gracie Cain, Hannah Tran/Melyn Lim, and Kate Nourrcier/Amy Peng all went 2-1.
Singles star Julia Sutedjo’s strength throughout the playoffs has allowed that strategy to work–she once again went 3-0 in her matches (6-0, 6-0, 6-3) to give Poly a boost. Janiaya Williams won her first match of the day 6-4 to represent the other point in Poly’s nail-biting win.
The Jackrabbits trailed 8-7 late in the day, and Schlueter and his players were feeling nervous. Poly’s last appearance in the title match was in 2003, where they tied with Campbell Hall 9-9 and lost the “games won” tiebreaker 68-57.
With that in mind, former head coach Ricardo Montecinos had counseled Schlueter on the importance of winning games even in matches that were lost, and it’s a message Schlueter ran with.
“We don’t want to get bageled, and everyone really bought into that ‘just win one game, win two games,’” said Schlueter. The Jackrabbits only had one match with no games won while San Dimas had three, which put the Jackrabbits in a good position. Down 8-7, they held a narrow but firm lead in the games tiebreaker were the final three doubles matches to break down into a 9-9 tie. Instead, the doubles teams all won out and removed all doubt.
“We needed to get all three doubles, because you just never want to go through that tiebreaker,” said Schlueter. “But all three of our teams came through, they were so steady these playoffs.”
After Nourrcier and Peng’s final point officially sealed the win, the team rushed the court.
“It happened so fast, we were jumping around celebrating on the court together,” said Schlueter. “The girls did it–they made history.”
Long Beach Poly def. San Dimas 10-8
SINGLES: San Dimas 5, Poly 4
Julia Sutedjo 3-0 (6-0, 6-0, 6-3)
Janaiya Williams 1-2 (6-4, 1-6, 2-6)
Lilia Fuentes 0-3 (0-6, 1-6, 1-6)
DOUBLES: Poly 6, San Dimas 3
Reina El Khoury/Gracie Cain 2-1 (6-3, 6-1, 2-6)
Hannah Tran/Melyn Lim 2-1 (6-0, 6-2, 6-7)
Kate Nourrcier/Amy Peng 2-1 (6-1, 6-3, 3-6)