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KEVIN SULLIVAN , STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Los Alamitos' Riley Smith celebrates his victory over Harvard-Westlake's Michael Genender during the CIF-SS Division 1 boys tennis finals at the Claremont Club Friday.

Inspired Los Al wins title with dominating effort

STAFF WRITER

CLAREMONT – The energy from court to court was contagious.

Already regarded as one of the more lively teams in Southern California, Los Alamitos played on another emotional atmosphere Friday afternoon, thanks in large part to the remarkable play of their junior star, Riley Smith.

Fueled by Smith’s dominant 6-0 showing over the defending CIF-SS and Ojai singles champ, Michael Genender, the Griffins used a second-round sweep to overwhelm Harvard-Westlake of Studio City, 14-4, to capture the CIF-SS Division 1 tennis championship on Friday at Claremont Club.

The title is Los Alamitos’ first since 2001, and the Griffins became the first county team outside of University to win the Division 1 crown since Dana Hills did so in 2006.

“It feels amazing,” first-year Griffins coach Jordan Bridge said. “These guys played such good tennis in this tournament and all season long. They’re so tough, and they really showed it in the last four or five matches.”

After sneaking out wins earlier this week in the quarterfinals and semifinals, the Griffins (19-0) appeared to be in for yet another nailbitter as they split the first round with the Wolverines, 3-3, winning the same amount of games as their counterparts in the process.

A strategic play on the part of Harvard-Westlake (18-2) matched Genender up with Smith in the second round as opposed to the first.

The Griffins junior was nothing short of brilliant, blanking the five-star Stanford recruit, 6-0, for a critical point on the singles side.

“I had a pretty good strategy and I was just really aggressive and excited,” said Smith, who dropped only one game all afternoon. “He didn’t play his best, but I probably played the match of my life.”

Word of Smith’s bagel spread throughout the courts and it pumped up the already electric Los Al team.

“The energy just kind of derailed them,” senior Kyle McCann said. “When we got wind of that, everybody just got a big pump in their step and we were sailing at that point.”

Vatsal Bajpai and the doubles team of Brian Bales and Naara Shin fought back from 5-2 deficits to win 7-6 tiebreakers, completing Los Al’s sweep of the second round, which all but made the third round a mere formality.

“The word we kept using was ‘inspired tennis,’” Bridge added. “These guys have been in tight situations the last few rounds and they knew if they were going to pull this out, that was the time.”

Contact the writer: kconnolly@ocregister.com


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