Coach Chris Black’s top-seeded Canyon Crest Girls Tennis team used a balanced lineup—getting five wins in singles and five more in doubles—to turn back second-seeded Westview, 10-8, and capture their second consecutive CIF Open Division championship Thursday afternoon, Oct. 31, at Balboa Tennis Club.
“Going into the season, I was really confident we’d be back in the final and semi-confident that we were still the best team on paper,” said Black, whose team unexpectedly lost three of the top players in the county before the year started. “I knew it would be a lot tighter but I also knew we still had tremendous depth which really helps at the high school level.
“Today and in yesterday’s semi-final (a 12-6 decision over Bishop’s) every line in singles and doubles won at least one match, got us at least one point. That makes me very proud.”
The Ravens, who hadn’t lost to a San Diego opponent in the regular season, knew the final would be a battle. Westview, the defending CIF Division I title holder, had eliminated last year’s Open runner-up San Dieguito in the semi-finals and back in September had pushed Canyon Crest before falling, 10-8.
The two schools split the first rotation, 3-3, but CCA garnered four points in the second to pull ahead, 7-5, before halving the final round to clinch. The doubles pair of senior Emily Fowler and freshman Lillia Finnegan was a pillar of strength. Undefeated together on the season, they swept their three matches by a combined tally of 18-7. Westview’s talented sophomore Kaila Barksdale was also perfect, prevailing in all three of her singles contests by scores of 6-2.
Both sophomore Asha Gidwani and freshman Elina Shalaev procured two singles victories for CCA and Black’s squad also went undefeated against Westview’s No. 3 singles and doubles lines, highlighting the depth the long time coach felt made this year’s triumph special.
“Last year was amazing in that we replaced a team (Torrey Pines) that had been dominant at the top of the county for about 30 years—and we were very dominant ourselves,” said Black who referred to the 2018 talent level as ‘an embarrassment of riches.’ “It was really cool to see our players recognize that they didn’t need all that superstar firepower to win and that the second and third singles and doubles players are just as valuable.”
Fowler won the 2018 CIF individual doubles championship with now-departed Giulia Hayer and, according to Black, she was originally penciled in to be part of the singles lineup this fall. But ultimately, the solid lefty was once again a steadying presence in doubles and provided much-needed leadership for what’s still a very young unit. She had her own notion regarding the dynamic of this year’s Ravens.
“We went into CIF as the No. 1 seed and we didn’t lose a match in league but there was definitely more pressure this time,” said Fowler, whose sister Lyna scored a point from CCA’s No. 2 singles slot. “Girls that didn’t have any pressure to win last year, did this year. Losing those top players took away our safety net and everyone had to step up their games.
“The matches were closer, we had to work harder to get the championship and, in the end, I think it definitely tasted sweeter.”
The back-to-back Open Championships impart even more credibility and stature to a program that has been progressively developing. Black has appreciation for this latest accomplishment from the perspective of someone who has been there every step of the way since the team debuted in 2004.
“Torrey Pines was dominating for such a long time and I can remember when we were losing these kind of matches, 17-1 and 16-2,” said Black, “so having won successive CIF titles with a culture in place where we can, hopefully, maintain this quality of performance and represent our school well is very gratifying.”
With CCA’s victory Thursday, Fowler, who transferred to Canyon Crest from Torrey Pines after her sophomore year, is believed to have become the first player in San Diego history to be part of four CIF championship teams while playing at different schools.
“When I was a freshman, my goal was to be on a team that won four CIF championships,” recalled Fowler, who will defend her CIF individual doubles crown in two weeks, this time playing with her sister. “I didn’t know I was going to be transferring but I’m really happy with the way everything turned out.”
For Black, seeing the elder Fowler graduate will be a bittersweet moment. “Emily is so cool,” he said. “When she transferred here after her sophomore year, she walked in and it was as if she’d been part of it all along.
“She’s a very warm and engaging leader and you really never know if it was a good or bad day with her—she’s so even-keeled and humble. We’re going to miss her like crazy.”
Given Thursday’s results, that’s something Black will know how to deal with.