TENNIS | Undefeated for the season, the tennis team lands in the league playoffs

The Wolves finished the regular season 10-0 — undefeated. Competitors 0-10 Reseda and 4-6 Sylmar posed little resistance. Kennedy was in the midst of a transition year, having lost many seniors and training the new younger classmen into a new team. Their position as the cross-town Van Nuys rivals was replaced by the SOCES Knights, but the Wolves were clearly the stronger team.

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CREDIT: ANTONY NEPEYVODA | THE MIRROR

Norman Nakpil prepares to forehand the ball to his opponent.

Sweat dripped down their foreheads. The sounds of the court faded. Their shoulders slumped and faces long, the Wolves still shook hands and thanked the Taft Matadors. They were disappointed, their first official game on March 9 had ended in a 5-2 loss to the Matadors.

But on the bus ride back, Coach Min Woo So’s voice called out from the front.

It was only their first game and it was the pre-season he said. They had the chance to come back from this loss and win throughout the season.

In previous years, the Valley Mission League was filled with tough rivals, including SOCES and Sylmar. But the greatest competitor of all has been the Kennedy Cougars, regularly appearing at the top of the ranking by the end of each season.

This season seemed to tell a different story. The Wolves finished the regular season 10-0 — undefeated. Competitors 0-10 Reseda and 4-6 Sylmar posed little resistance. Kennedy was in the midst of a transition year, having lost many seniors and training the new younger classmen into a new team. Their position as the cross-town Van Nuys rivals was replaced by the SOCES Knights, but the Wolves were clearly the stronger team. SOCES finished 8-2 in the league with Van Nuys handing them both losses.

Coach So was at the forefront of leading the team to an undefeated season. Before the boys season, he coached the girls team to a 5-3 league record which secured the girls a birth into the playoffs. The girls played close games against Garfield and Birmingham, winning 5-2 and 4-3. They made it all the way to the semi-finals, finally succumbing to the LACES Unicorns, the eventual winners of the D2 girls championships.

An undefeated run in the season was never an obvious certainty. Back in the 2019 pre-covid season, the boys team finished with a 5-3 league record and a loss in the second round of the playoffs. But nearly all the players on that playoff squad already graduated. Coach So had to rebuild the current team from scratch.

During the pre-season, the Schoology blast and word-of-mouth brought a wave of applicants which well exceeded the 10 varsity spots. The team took on nearly double that amount to act as the extended varsity in the lineup.

All the members, no matter what position they were in varsity or if they even played at all, were expected to make a commitment. Coach So took advantage of the later start time to school to hold daily morning practices at 7 a.m. Not all players are in the sixth-period class but everyone is expected to come to after-school practice which ends at 5 p.m. every day.

It was during this time that the players’ renewed resolve and increased practice helped the team hone its skills and end up as a contender for the league championships. The time spent practicing in the pre-season proved invaluable to many members, with nine out of the 10 varsity players playing in their first varsity matches. Half of them were underclassmen who had proved themselves by drastically improving before the season.

Whatever the final result of the 2022 season playoffs, the team is set to remain contentious for the next few years to come. The underclassmen are only expected to improve and take over the spots vacated with five seniors graduating. If not this year, then next, the Wolves tennis team is looking for their first boys championship since the 2007-2008 season.