Isaac reaches Valley League final, wins first CIF match

Fallbrook High junior Imogen Isaac, who earned her first CIF tournament singles win this year, is shown here competing in an early-season match. Shane Gibson photos

Fallbrook High School junior Imogen Isaac won one fewer match in the Valley League individual tennis tournament than she did last year but won one more match in the CIF individual tournament than she did in 2016.

Isaac, who won the 2016 league singles championship, reached the league singles final for the second consecutive year but lost this year’s championship match to Julia Failla, a Mountain Valley Academy freshman who plays for Ramona High School under the CIF’s Multi-School Teams Status policy which allows athletes from certain schools to compete for a specified other school. The league tournament took place Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 at San Pasqual High School.

In a six-team league each school is allowed four singles players and four doubles teams in the league tournament. Because the Valley League has five teams, schools with enough players had more competitors in the league tournament. Fallbrook only had 12 players (the Warriors had 13 on their roster, but freshman Lucy Buldoc was injured and did not compete in the league tournament), so the Warriors had four singles players and four doubles teams in the league tournament.

“I think they all played up to their potential,” said Fallbrook coach Bill Lenaway.

The league tournament only had 20 singles players, giving first-round byes to four unseeded players as well as the eight top seeds, while the league doubles tournament consisted of 23 tandems which equates to nine byes.

“I thought it went pretty much as expected,” Lenaway said.

The league tournament was rescheduled twice. The initial dates were Oct. 30 through Nov. 2, but a heat advisory prompted an Oct. 23 decision by the CIF to postpone the CIF team tournament. The new CIF team tournament dates included Oct. 31 championship matches, so the league tournament was rescheduled for Nov. 1-3.

Ramona and San Pasqual were the only Valley League teams selected to play in the CIF team tournament, and the Valley League coaches decided that if neither Ramona nor San Pasqual reached the Division II semifinals, the league tournament would begin Oct. 31 and end Nov. 2.

“We just thought we might as well get it done,” Lenaway said.

Ramona, which was seeded tenth, won a first-round match at seventh-seeded Otay Ranch before losing to second-seeded Point Loma in the Oct. 27 quarterfinal. San Pasqual was seeded eighth and defeated Grossmont to open team tournament competition but lost to top-seeded Helix in the quarterfinals. Helix would defeat Point Loma to win the Division II championship. The Valley League teams had Oct. 30 for practice before beginning the league tournament the following day.

“It didn’t matter,” said Lenaway of the effect on his team of rescheduling the league tournament twice. “It was no big deal.”

The first two rounds of the league tournament were played Oct. 31, the quarterfinals and semifinals took place Nov. 1, as did the first round of matches for the fifth-place positions, and the finals were contested Nov. 2 along with the third-place and fifth-place matches. Five Valley League singles players and five doubles teams qualified for the CIF individual tournament, so matches among the quarterfinals losers were held to determine the fifth-place berth.

Failla, Isaac, San Pasqual senior Cali Smith, San Pasqual junior Karen Nguyen and Valley Center sophomore Isabel Stehly received the top five singles seeds. The eighth seed was given to Fallbrook junior Makena Larson.

The draw gave sophomore Paulina Garcia a first-round bye and a round of 16 match against Stehly, who eliminated Garcia 6-0, 6-0.

Fallbrook junior Karina Bulli was slated to play Ramona sophomore Malia Cozart in the first round, but Cozart defaulted and Bulli began play against San Pasqual sophomore Sophie Belair. Belair, who was the seventh seed, advanced with a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Bulli.

Larson had a first-round bye and opened play by prevailing over Escondido junior Kirsten Soto in a 6-0, 6-2 match. That gave Larson a quarterfinal match against Failla, who won a pair of 6-0 sets. Stehly defeated Larson in 6-0 and 6-1 sets in the first round of the matches for fifth place before defeating Belair for the final CIF tournament berth.

“She’s still improving,” Lenaway said of Larson.

Isaac followed her first-round bye by defeating Ramona freshman Kiera Duffy by a 6-0, 6-0 margin in the round of 16. Isaac won 6-0 and 6-1 sets against Belair in the quarterfinal.

Isaac faced Smith in the semifinals and captured 7-5 and 6-3 sets while Failla defeated Nguyen in the other singles semifinal.

“Imogen didn’t have much trouble with anybody until she got to the final,” Lenaway said.

Last year Isaac won the final with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Smith. Isaac won a pair of 6-0 sets over Nguyen in the 2016 semifinal and had at least one 6-0 win over all four of her opponents in last year’s league tournament.

This year Failla was the one who had 6-0 victories in each of her Valley League tournament matches. She did not lose a game in any of her four matches and sealed this year’s league championship with a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Isaac in the Nov. 2 final.

The win over Isaac gave Failla a 54-0 record, in terms of sets played, for the season.

“Nobody in our league was going to touch Julia this year,” Lenaway said.

Failla became the first player from a school other than Fallbrook to win the Valley League individual singles championship since her older sister, Jessica, won the 2013 Valley League championship as well as the CIF championship that year. Fallbrook’s Alyssa Karavitch was the league singles champion in both 2014 and 2015.

“Imogen actually played very well,” Lenaway said.

Lenaway noted that Isaac forced Failla to play long points. “Julia won most of them,” Lenaway said.

Isaac’s only other loss in a Valley League tournament was during her freshman year when she played doubles. Three of the four doubles semifinalists in 2015 were Fallbrook tandems with Ramona’s Renee Hogervorst and Elizabeth Bowersox comprising the other doubles team. Isaac and Megan Lowry lost a 7-5, 7-6 semifinal match to eventual league champions Maddie Young and Raquelle Rogers. The third-place game that year was to eight points with Isaac and Lowry taking an 8-0 victory over Hogervorst and Bowersox.

The first two rounds of the CIF individual tournament at the Morley Field courts in San Diego took place Nov. 6. Isaac began with a match against Vincent Memorial junior Camila Lopez Portillo and won 6-4 and 6-2 sets. The CIF tournament singles win was the first for Isaac, who lost a pair of 6-2 sets in the first round last year to Charlotte Alexander of Canyon Crest. This year Alexander is a senior and won her first two rounds before losing to eventual champion Elizabeth Goldsmith from Olympian. In the 2015 CIF tournament Isaac and Lowry reached the second round of doubles play.

Isaac’s second-round opponent was Mission Bay sophomore McKenna Mountain, who captured 6-2 and 6-0 sets against Isaac.

“Imogen actually played much better the second round,” Lenaway said.

Mountain then played Rancho Bernardo senior Sonya Romanenko and defeated Romanenko in a 6-3, 6-2 match. The top four singles players and top four doubles tandems received specified seeds, the next four seeds were given unspecified 5-8 seeds, and Romanenko was one of eight singles players with an unspecified 9-16 seed.

“She played well,” Lenaway said of Isaac’s loss to Mountain. “Just played a really good player.”

The Fallbrook doubles team of senior Jackie Cardona and sophomore Daisy Salazar had a first-round bye in the league tournament but played their round of 16 match against the top-seeded San Pasqual tandem consisting of senior Olivia Belair and sophomore Delaney Esselman. Belair and Esselman began their route to the eventual league championship with a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Cardona and Salazar.

The first-round match for sophomore Gabbi Bulli and freshman Katelyn Jameson was a 6-4, 6-4 loss to the Valley Center squad of junior Jaeden Flury and sophomore Sophia Cox.

“My teams were made up of very inexperienced players,” Lenaway said. “They’re total beginners. It was a good experience for them.”

The final high school tennis match for senior Ashley Tanner and the final 2017 match for sophomore Nicole Dulin was a 6-3, 6-1 loss in the first round to Ramona seniors Hailey Henshaw and Tiffany Meredith.

A pair of call-ups from Ramona’s junior varsity faced Fallbrook’s duo of senior Frankie Billmeier and junior Diana Martinez in the first round and began the match by winning a 6-3 set. Billmeier and Martinez countered with a 6-4 victory to force a tiebreaking game to 10 points, and then obtained a 10-5 victory in the tiebreaking game.

Billmeier and Martinez then faced Valley Center senior Hailey Johnson and junior Maddison Clark, who had the seventh seed. The Fallbrook duo won 7-5 and 6-2 sets to advance to the quarterfinals.

“That’s the best I’ve seen them play all year,” Lenaway said.

Any quarterfinal matches in which the first two sets were split ended with a full third set rather than with a tiebreaking game to 10 points. The second-seeded Ramona duo of senior Hannah Nowakowski and junior Halli Romero won a 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 quarterfinal over Billmeier and Martinez.

Ramona seniors Zaydee Cordova and Jessica Nelson, who had the sixth seed, advanced to the fifth-place match with a 6-2, 6-4 victory against Billmeier and Martinez in the first round of the consolation matches.

“Frankie and Diana outperformed what their seed was,” said Lenaway. “They played really, really well. They played like they should have been the eighth seed.”

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