Village News Reporter
Fallbrook senior Daniel Winton and junior Joe Tygart reached the doubles championship match of the Valley League tournament April 19-21 at San Pasqual High School.
The league tournament also included Fallbrook junior Porter Niccum taking third place in the singles competition.
During the league tournament, each school is allowed four singles players and four doubles tandems. Coaches are allowed to use players who were on the junior varsity during the regular season, although Fallbrook had no JV team this year. Fallbrook, whose team consisted of 10 players, had two singles netters and four doubles entries in this year’s league tournament.
“My 2 and 3 singles players decided to qualify in doubles,” Lenaway said.
Five singles players and five doubles teams from each league qualify for the CIF individual tournament. All players who reach the semifinals in the league tournament qualify for the CIF tournament, and fifth place is decided by back draw matches among the quarterfinals losers. Winton, Tygart, and Niccum were the only Fallbrook players who participated in this year’s CIF individual tournament.
Schools were allowed additional players if any school did not field four entries. Valley Center had eight singles players; Mission Hills had six; Escondido and Ramona had three apiece, and San Pasqual and Fallbrook each had two.
“One of them was a beginning player,” Lenaway said. “All he really gained out of it was some match experience, and he did okay.”
That newcomer, junior Ethan Ahrend, lost a 6-1, 6-0 match against Ramona sophomore Noah Furchner in the first round. “I don’t think there was a big expectation for him,” Lenaway said. “The bigger thing was just to go out and play and try to improve.”
Niccum received a first-round bye and began play with a 6-0, 6-0 round of 16 victory against Valley Center sophomore Guillermo Bustillos and a 6-0, 6-0 quarterfinals win over Valley Center senior Costas Robles. Damian Robles, who is a Valley Center sophomore, took a 6-1, 6-0 match against Niccum in the semifinals.
“I think he was a little disappointed in his semifinals score,” Lenaway said.
Niccum had the third seed, so Robles was seeded higher and was expected to win.
In the other semifinal between two Mission Hills netters, senior Pierson Jalajas defeated freshman Ryan Bourne. That placed Niccum and Bourne in the third-place match which ended as a 6-2, 6-1 triumph for Niccum.
“He came back the next day and won convincingly,” Lenaway said.
Three of the Fallbrook doubles teams – Winton and Tygart, senior Sam Grantham and sophomore Anthony Wilson, and senior James Smith and freshman Connor Skaja – were given first-round byes.
The other Warriors duo consisting of senior Carl Maier and junior Chris Flores played San Pasqual sophomores Joshua Bredel and Justin Welch in the first round. Maier and Flores won the 6-1 first set. Bredel and Welch countered with a 6-2 victory in the second set. If the two sets are split, a tie breaking game to 10 points rather than a third full set is played. Maier and Flores won the 10-4 tiebreaker to advance to the round of 16.
The Mission Hills tandem of senior Brennan Ortega and sophomore Keith Palmer would eventually defeat Winton and Tygart in the final to win the league championship. Their round of 16 victory, which had a 6-1, 6-0 score, eliminated Maier and Flores.
Although Maier is a senior, he had not previously played tennis. “He just came out for the team to try to help us out and did a really good job,” Lenaway said.
Flores also made his tennis debut this year. “We had a lot of inexperience,” Lenaway said.
Smith and Skaja faced Mission Hills sophomore Aidan Heath and freshman Jesse Trinh in the round of 16. The Fallbrook duo won a pair of 6-0 sets to place them in the quarterfinals against Ortega and Palmer, who garnered a 6-1, 6-3 victory in that match.
The round of 16 match for Grantham and Wilson was against Valley Center seniors Adam Cruz and Matthew Kishi. Grantham and Wilson had a 7-5 win in the first set. Cruz and Kishi prevailed in the 6-2 second set and then won the 10-5 tiebreaker.
“They just quite didn’t pull it out,” Lenaway said of his players.
Grantham also did not play tennis until his senior year. “He did a great job,” Lenaway said.
Winton and Tygart began play with 6-0, 6-1 victory over Mission Hills freshmen Kieran De Asis and Kirill Yefimov. The Warriors partners followed their round of 16 triumph with a three-set quarterfinals win over Valley Center senior Angel Hernandez and sophomore Levi Leichtfuss. Hernandez and Leightfuss prevailed in the 6-4 first set before Winton and Tygart won the 6-3 second set and the 10-3 tiebreaker. In the semifinals, Winton and Tygart took a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Mission Hills juniors Niklas Buerger and Calan Doi.
Palmer and Ortega won the league doubles championship with a 6-1, 6-0 win over Winton and Tygart. “That’s just the way it goes,” Lenaway said.
Winton and Tygart had the top doubles seed. “My guys played doubles all year long,” Lenaway said.
Palmer had been Mission Hills’ #2 singles player while Ortega and Bourne were the Grizzlies’ #1 doubles team.
The loss was the first in league competition for Winton and Tygart, who were undefeated in 2021. “I’m not unhappy with their performance,” Lenaway said. “They had a great season.”
A league championship would thus have required Winton and Tygart to be undefeated in league play for two years in a row. “That’s tough to do,” Lenaway said.
In the first round of the back draw, Smith and Skaja faced Cruz and Kishi, who once again took a three-set win over Fallbrook opposition. Cruz and Kishi were the victors of the 6-2 first set. After each team won six games in the second set a tie breaking game to seven points determined that set’s winners. Smith and Skaja won the 7-2 tiebreaker to trigger another tie breaking game to determine the match winner. The tiebreaker must be won by at least two points, and Kishi and Cruz obtained that margin in the 11-9 tiebreaker.
Smith had been Fallbrook’s #2 singles player during the regular season while Skaja had the Warriors’ #3 singles role. “They’re not used to playing doubles. Connor is also just a freshman,” Lenaway said. “I thought they played pretty well most of the tournament.”