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Sister act on the court - Johnson sisters reach CIF individual tennis finals

Michaela and Hailey Johnson became the first Fallbrook High School tennis players to reach the finals of an individual CIF tournament.

The Johnson sisters won their first five matches in the CIF girls doubles tournament at the Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego, defeating two higher-seeded opponents along the way, before falling to a third higher-seeded opponent in the final. Poway players Kaley Schultz and Laina Matsuda won the CIF doubles title with a 7-6, 6-1 victory over the Johnson sisters in the championship match November 20.

“They did good overall. I’m really happy and proud of their season,” said Fallbrook coach Dave Ramirez. “They did just a wonderful job.”

Senior Michaela Johnson and junior Hailey Johnson were given the sixth seed in the doubles tournament and commenced play with two November 17 matches. The Johnsons opened the tournament with a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Lincoln players Nancy Duran and Cherish Caldwell and advanced to the round of 16 with a 6-0, 6-2 victory over the Canyon Crest duo of Susanna Nesses and Christina Kranikova.

Wins in two November 18 matches sent the Johnsons into the semifinals. After defeating eleventh-seeded Mardee and Remy Littrell of Valley Center in a pair of 6-2 sets, the Fallbrook players faced top-seeded and defending champions Elena and Sophie

Najera-Salas of La Jolla Country Day in the quarterfinals. The Johnsons earned a semifinal berth with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over the anticipated repeat champions.

“That was just an incredible match,” Ramirez said of the quarterfinal win. “Michaela was just on fire, returning and closing.”

The semifinal match November 19 saw the Warrior girls face fourth-seeded Haley Sanchez and Tiara Cabrera of Cathedral Catholic. The Johnson sisters won the first five games of the first set before Sanchez and Cabrera came back from a 40-15 deficit on set point to win their first game. Sanchez and Cabrera then won the ensuing game and had a 40-15 lead in the eighth game of the first set before the Johnsons scored the next four points to take the game and to win the set by a 6-2 score.

“That was the turning point right there for sure,” said Cathedral Catholic coach Ron Marquez.

“That’s a pretty good comeback,” Ramirez said.

The Johnsons won the first game of the second set while Cathedral Catholic evened that set in the second game. The Johnsons won the next two games to take a 3-1 lead, but Sanchez and Cabrera won the ensuing three games for a 4-3 lead.

“[During the] second set, we had a little hiccup,” Ramirez said.

The Johnsons then won the next two games for a 5-4 lead and took a 30-0 lead in the tenth game. Although the Dons players scored the next point, Michaela’s return set up match point. With the Johnsons leading 40-30, another return by Michaela gave Fallbrook the victory.

“The Johnsons are tough. They played well,” Marquez said.

“I think they kind of overpowered them a little bit,” Ramirez said. “We were just a little stronger.”

Ironically, three of the other four Fallbrook singles or doubles entries in the CIF tournament were eliminated by Cathedral Catholic opponents. The Dons had five doubles teams and three singles teams in the tournament.

The Johnson sisters became the first Fallbrook players to reach either a singles or doubles individual final in either boys or girls tennis.

In the first game of the finals, the Warriors led 40-15 before Schultz and Matsuda scored the next four points to win the game. The Johnsons won the second game, and Poway prevailed in the third and fourth games for a 3-1 lead.

Fallbrook scored all four points in the fifth game and four of the five points in the sixth game to even the set. Poway took a 4-3 lead and led 40-30 in the eighth game before the Warriors scored that game’s final three points to even the set at four games apiece.

The Warriors were down 30-15 in the ninth game before Haley served for two aces and then returned a ball for game point and a 5-4 lead. In the tenth game the Titans took a 30-15 lead before Fallbrook scored two points for set point. Poway then scored the next three points to even the set at five games apiece.

The Johnsons scored four of the five points in the eleventh game for a 6-5 lead, but the Titans won the twelfth game by an identical margin. The set then went to a tiebreaking game with the first team to score seven points and have a margin of at least two points earning the game and set. Poway never trailed in the tiebreaking game and won that contest by a 7-2 score, giving the Titan duo a 7-6 victory in the first set.

“We had some chances there,” Ramirez said.

“It brought our confidence up, getting over that,” Schultz said.

“From there we started getting our momentum,” Matsuda said.

“That set the momentum in our favor and then it put more pressure on them to try to do more,” Poway head coach Evi Yarnell-Balles said of her players winning the tiebreaker. “When you try to do more, you make errors.”

Schultz and Matsuda won the first four games of the second set before the Johnson sisters overcame a 40-15 deficit to win the fifth game. Poway won the next two games, sealing the match on Schultz’s serving ace.

“That was a big mental toughness match,” Ramirez said. “Losing that tiebreaker 7-2 deflated them.”

“We played tough,” Schultz said. “We stayed focused, and we were trying to keep every point in.”

Haley Johnson spent most of the 2009 season playing singles while Michaela Johnson usually teamed with freshman Phyllis Van den Berg for doubles play. The Johnson sisters competed as a doubles team in the Avocado League tournament following the completion of team competition.

“I’m glad I played it with my sister. Means a lot to me,” said Michaela, who is leaning towards attending and playing tennis at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Phyllis Van den Berg and her twin sister, Hanli, were seeded tenth in the CIF doubles tournament. They opened tournament play with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over another set of twins, sophomores Katie and Megan Woods of La Jolla Country Day, and then won a pair of 6-0 sets against Gabriela Aspuro and Nataliya Marakova of Monte Vista. In the round of 16 seventh-seeded Sophia Costes and Anna Rudakov of Cathedral Catholic took a 6-4, 6-0 victory over the Van den Berg twins.

Senior Beth Dunckel and junior Tanya Hasvold also represented Fallbrook in the doubles tournament. Dunckel and Hasvold won their first-round match against Emily Cates and Katelyn Mazza of Christian High School by a 6-2, 6-2 score but lost in the second round to 13th-seeded Cathedral Catholic sophomores Lucy La Costa and Cece Mariscal in 6-3 and 6-0 sets.

The CIF singles tournament was won by San Marcos senior Lacy Smyth, who will continue her scholastic tennis career at the University of Arizona. Smyth’s path to the CIF championship included a 6-1, 6-2 quarterfinal win November 18 over Fallbrook junior Jessica Willett.

“Lacy was able to consistently play the big points at a high level,” Ramirez said.

“Lacy played real solid tennis and Jessica Willett played exceptional,” said San Marcos coach Paul Hartman. “It was a hard-fought battle all the way through.”

Smyth was the top singles seed while Willett was given the #6 seed. “Jessica’s improved tremendously. She’s a very solid player,” Hartman said.

“The power level was just incredible,” Ramirez said. “It was awesome the way Jessica was hitting the ball.”

Willett began the tournament with a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Alyssa Castaneda of Sweetwater and advanced to the round of 16 with a 6-1, 6-3 triumph against Vista’s Jenn Schiff. Willett’s 6-2, 6-3 victory over eleventh-seeded Carley Cooke of Point Loma

set up the quarterfinal match against Smyth.

Fallbrook freshman Monica Robinson won two rounds in the tournament before an ankle injury forced her withdrawal in the round of 16. Robinson earned the tenth seed and opened the tournament against Alexis Goldberg of Canyon Crest. A 6-2, 6-1 win over Goldberg gave Robinson a match against Rancho Buena Vista’s Jessica Pflibsen in which Robinson took a 6-0, 6-2 victory.

Robinson faced Cathedral Catholic senior Ciria Mariscal, who was seeded eighth, in the round of 16. Mariscal won all six games in the first set, but Robinson was leading three games to two in the second set before retiring.

The league and CIF singles and doubles tournaments followed team play which ended November 6 and saw Fallbrook reach the CIF finals before an 11-7 loss to Torrey Pines in the championship match. The two teams had shared the Avocado League championship, each compiling a 9-1 record in league play while splitting the league two matches between them. Fallbrook’s September 24 victory ended Torrey Pines’ streak of 15 consecutive league match victories.

“It was just a great season,” Ramirez said.

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