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Valencia's Duong seeks memorable senior season
PLACENTIA – Emilee Duong had as much momentum as any of her contemporaries – regardless of division – headed into last fall’s CIF Individuals and appeared poised to make a lengthy run in the Southern Section’s singles tournament.
Then a junior, Duong had just turned in a 39-0 clip as Valencia’s clear-cut No. 1, she captured her second consecutive Empire League singles crown, and she steamrolled everyone she faced while leading the Tigers to a Division 3 team title.
So when the area’s elites gathered at Seal Beach Tennis Center for the final rounds of individual competition, there was one question on everyone’s mind.
Where is Emilee Duong?
“I was on my recruiting trips,” she chuckled, reminiscing of campus visits to Ohio State and Purdue, her soon-to-be home 2,100 miles away in Indiana. “It was all a new experience. I could’ve chosen to stay and play, but I wanted to see what my future options were.”
Being one of the fastest rising recruits in the class of 2017, Duong’s options were plentiful. Having settled on her school for the future, the focus has shifted back to Valencia, where Duong has an opportunity to cement her status as the greatest tennis player the school has ever produced.
From a rankings perspective, the Tigers five-star senior might already be there.
Duong is ranked as the nation’s No. 42 senior prospect, which is the second best in Orange County, behind Sunny Hills’ Christie Wan, who is regarded as the No. 19 player.
But while Wan has been more of a known commodity since her freshman season – ranked no lower than 46th in the nation the last four years – Duong has elevated her level of play from three-star prospect to top-50 talent.
“She’s just a bulldog when she’s on the court,” Tigers coach Mike McCall said of the team’s captain. “She’s just tough, especially mentally. Things aren’t going well for her, she turns the page and goes on to the next point. She’s gotten stronger. She’s hitting with more pace on ground strokes and serves.”
Starting out ranked in the 175-range nationally as a ninth grader, Duong has taken her all-court game to a new level. She’s comfortable playing back at the base line with her big forehand and slick backhand, and has become more aggressive approaching the net.
Like many local collegiate-bound players, Duong gets her best reps outside of the high school court, alongside private coaches and other top-notch talents. On a recent afternoon, for example, she was rallying with a member of Valencia’s boys team, and was more than holding her own.
For Duong, it doesn’t necessarily come down to the caliber of competition she’s encountering on a given afternoon. High school tennis is a means to provide for the school and play alongside some girls she has grown up with.
“I want that team aspect, and high school gives me that,” she explained. “Just being on a team gets me pumped and makes me play better. And winning CIF last year was really big – not just for me – but for the team, coach McCall and the school.”
With a Division 3 championship victory last November and a runner-up finish in 2014, Valencia was moved up to Division 1 this season under the new competitive equity playoff model CIF has introduced. Duong can largely be credited with the bump up being as she’s held down and dominated from the No. 1 singles spot in the Tigers lineup since her freshman season.
Valencia will again be a heavy favorite to take the Empire League crown with six starters back from last year’s squad, and Duong – barring injury – should go on to capture a third straight singles title.
In what looks to be a wide open year for local singles talent, the fun will really get going for Duong come late November when individual play begins.
And there’s no missing that this year.
“As far as individuals, I’m looking for a potential title,” she said. “I know there’s a lot of stiff competition, but hopefully I’ll be able to knock them down.”
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