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Valencia triumphs in nerve-wracking final
CLAREMONT – Two Empire League boys tennis rivals with different histories went toe-to-toe in the CIF-SS Division 3 title game.
Perennial contender Valencia was playing in its fifth championship game in the last seven years. Cypress was making just its second appearance on the Southern Section’s biggest stage, but its second in as many years.
A late tiebreaker victory by the alternate doubles team of Jun Im and Nick Alayra helped Valencia come away with a thrilling victory for its second title in four years Friday at Claremont Club.
The 7-6 win by Im and Alayra ended the match tied at nine sets apiece. The two teams huddled around their clipboards, tallying the games to see who would win the tiebreaker. At separate times, each team let out a roar as they believed they had won.
After coaches Mike McCall (Valencia) and Joseph Paul (Cypress) took a look at the cards together, it was found that Valencia won by the slimmest of margins, 83-82, on the games tiebreaker.
The senior duo of Im and Alayra had never played with each other, but McCall turned to them after Jamie Scott and Nick Lavoie dropped their first two sets.
“It was probably the most nerve-wracking moment of both of our lives,” Alayra said of the individual win and the successive counting of the games.
Cypress (21-4), which lost two regular-season matches to the Tigers (22-3), won four of the first five sets, including a doubles sweep in the first round.
A critical point of the match came in the final set of the first rotation. Valencia’s Matthew Cuan trailed Cypress’ Surya Kumaraguru, 5-0, in the No. 3 singles match. McCall told the freshman to attack the net.
Cuan executed, winning seven games in a row to help the Tigers close the gap to 4-2.
“I just wanted to do it for my teammates,” Cuan said. “I gained more confidence and focus as the set went on.”
McCall was proud of his team for its resilience.
“We got behind early. The key was we never quit,” he said. “We just kept battling.”
Jacob Lee, Austin Lee and Cuan each won two of their three singles matches.
Cypress received sweeps from Ben Lee in singles, and Darrus Lee and Habin Gu in doubles.