University ready for the challenge that awaits in Ojai
Over the past two years, University has managed to turn the famed Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament into the "Oh, hi. Now please step aside as we clean up" Valley Tennis Tournament.
Back-to-back team victories — in 2010 with Reo Asami, Ryan Cheung and Kona Luu and last year with Gage Brymer, Stefan Menichella and Luu — have not only given the Trojans the exclusive platform on which to showcase their talent, but they've built quite a reputation of presumed success as well.
"What we did last year was off the charts," said University coach John Kessler, whose team is a favorite in the tournament that runs Thursday through Saturday. "It's hard to win that tournament. You look back at the bracket and the competition and you get an appreciation for just how hard it is to win there."
Whether or not the top-ranked team in CIF-SS Division 1 is ready to embrace its place in high school tennis history, this year's trio of participants understand the importance of competing at the highest level, for the highest stakes, around.
"It's a great atmosphere," Menichella said. "You feel big time. The whole town comes out and everyone watches you play. Everyone hears about Uni; it's become a reputation there and it's fun to go out and prove that."
Menichella — University's usual No. 2 singles player who spent most of the season playing doubles because of a broken wrist — will team with sophomore Drew Dawson, an All-County doubles player last year who spent most of this season playing singles in Menichella's absence. The top-seeded Trojans doubles team looks to eclipse its semifinals appearance last year.
"I'm really excited to play doubles with Drew," Menichella said. "We've been practicing on our doubles strategy recently. We're both really good singles players, but we wanted to play real doubles tennis. We both really want to win that tournament."
In addition to carrying the tournament's top singles seed with him to Ojai this weekend, Brymer — the defending singles champion and top player in the USTA 18 boys singles rankings — will also carry the tournament's largest target on his back.
"Before any tournament you get some nerves," the junior said. "You just have to stay mentally tough as much as you can, trust in your training, stay relaxed and loose but still solid and confident."
The proud owner of plenty high school hardware, the Griggs Cup — awarded annually to the champion of the tournament — fills a precious spot on Brymer's mantle.
"Winning the Griggs Cup is a big deal," he said. "It's a big tournament with so many high schools in it. It's a great environment and we, as a team, are trying to bring the title back for our school."
Corona del Mar coach Brian Ricker wonderfully encapsulates the significance of the annual tournament.
"They have a wall with all the players who've won in the past - Pete Sampras, Tracy Austin, Corona del Mar guys, all people these kids know," he said. "Getting a picture up there is the ultimate goal because it stays up there forever."