As a sixth-grader, Caroline Lopez entered Westridge School’s gym and hoped to one day see a banner with her name on it. It took five years but she accomplished that mission last Friday as she helped the Tigers defeat Rowland, 11-7, in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 championship match at the Claremont Club.
“I just see those banners and I’ve always wanted at least one with me,” Lopez said. “Now we will have one with our names on it, and it’s just amazing. It’s great.”
Great is the only word to describe the performances of Westridge’s singles players, including Lopez, who swept her opponents, 6-1, 6-0, 6-0. Freshman Sydney Sasaki also won three sets despite an ankle injury, 6-0, 6-0, 6-2, and No. 3 singles Leah Soldner recorded two victories, 6-3, 6-3, 0-6, to help the Tigers capture their second CIF-SS tennis championship in school history.
“Oh my gosh, it’s great,” said Sasaki, who helped Westridge claim its first tennis crown since 1981. “I’m so glad we got to send our seniors off with a bang.”
Westridge has three seniors on the roster playing doubles. It was only fitting that two of the experienced players, Jaya Sadda and Gaby Ledis, solidified the victory for the Tigers in the third round of matches. After dropping their first two matches, the No. 3 doubles duo rebounded with the biggest win of their high school tennis careers.
“It’s unbelievable,” Ledis said. “My partner and I had lost the first two, and we were disappointed in the way we played. We cleared our heads and won the next one. I remember always thinking I wanted to be up there with the other banners. It’s great to end my last year here with a championship. I’m so grateful to do it with this group of girls.”
Both teams exchanged points in the first round with Westridge doubles dropping all three of their matches, but the Tigers broke through in the second round when twin sisters Eleanor and Francis Leiter overcame a four-point deficit to defeat the Raiders’ No. 1 doubles Samantha Leong and Riya Mital, 6-4, giving the Tigers a 7-5 lead after 12 matches.
“We knew the doubles had to win two or three,” Eleanor said. “We were down 4-0, and we knew we had to bring it back so we just fought hard and found weaknesses and tried to win. And we did.”
Westridge head coach Gene You called said the twins’ victory was “epic.”
“I felt that alone turned it around and turned the tide,” You said. “It opened the door for my doubles to do more. It was absolutely amazing.”
The Tigers (19-3 overall record) defeated Fairmont Prep of Anaheim in a wild card match, Le Lycee of Los Angeles in the first round, San Dimas, Yucaipa and Cerritos Whitney in the semifinals.
“It’s been a long time coming,” You said. “This team is my perfect storm. They all worked together. There is not one weak link on this team. I just had to guide them a little here and there. It’s the culmination of everyone being very strong and the right time.”