Jessica Perez's success was a big part of what lifted Dana Hills to a CIF Division 1 championship.

Dana Hills' Perez is girls tennis player of the year


One of the easiest ways to spot greatness in any walk of life is to judge someone based on how they perform in the most pressure-filled moments.

And during this past girls tennis season, Dana Hills junior Jessica Perez not only performed well when the spotlight was the brightest, she thrived.

Perez is the Orange County Register's 2011 girls tennis player of the year.

In helping lead Dana Hills to a CIF-SS Division 1 title, Perez went 33-2 on the season, losing once in doubles and once in singles.

It wasn't until Dana Hills' end of the year banquet, where she was named co-MVP with junior Alyssa Smith, when Perez began to understand just how good of a season she had.

"I didn't realize what a good record I had this year," she said. "I knew I didn't lose a lot, but I had no idea."

2011 All-County girls tennis team

A lot of those victories came in the biggest moments for the Dolphins' this season. In the CIF-SS finals against University, Perez swept all three of her singles matches, helping lead Dana Hills to the title.

The accomplishment led to a frenzy of emotion, with screams and tears flowing out as if Justin Bieber had just walked by.

"It was super exciting," Perez said. "We were all just jumping around, going crazy."

However, this year wasn't all smooth sailing for Perez. She was unable to compete in the CIF-SS individual tournament despite qualifying with Taylor Nederlander. Nederlander was ruled ineligible shortly after she and Perez won the South Coast League doubles title.

After feeling angry and disappointed, Perez regrouped and put things in perspective.

"It was definitely disappointing," she said. "This was a big year for me, but I couldn't do anything about it. It was too bad...

"But it's not the end of the world. I still have next year."

Perez spent most of the season playing No. 2 singles behind Smith, and the duo, along with All-County first-teamer Cassidy Spearman and All-County honorable mention selection Margo Pletcher are all set to return next season, making Dana Hills an early favorite to repeat.

The one-two punch of Smith and Perez at the top of the lineup makes it incredibly difficult for teams to pick up victories over the Dolphins.

"Alyssa and I made our own little team. We would always try to get six points together," Perez said. "We didn't put pressure on each other to have to get a certain amount of points. We just wanted to do our best."

And this season, no matter how important, Perez's best was almost always good enough.

"In the big pressure moments, I would just go out there and wing it," she said. "The results worked out this year."

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