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Freshmen, depth power VC hopes for 2008 run

BEAVERTON - Sometimes you just get lucky.

Valley Catholic girls tennis coach Chris Johnson considers himself as much after an influx of several strong freshmen has VC optimistic it might be a start of special things for the Valiants' program, which has an astounding 55 girls in 2008.

'This could be a good year for VC tennis,' said Johnson, a co-coach with Laura Unger. 'It's a solid core of girls. We'll be a lot better than a lot of the schools think we are.'

Those who played Valley Catholic in 2007 are unaware the team added four freshmen singles players that are solid top to bottom. Heading that list is No. 1 Sophie Engelhardt, a lifelong junior tennis player who has lost all of one game in three matches to start the season.

'I don't think I can beat her and I'm no slouch on the court,' Johnson said. 'Quiet as they come. Smiles a lot and just plays great tennis. A consummate professional at 15. She's going to win state, I bet.'

Fellow freshman Priya Patel is VC's No. 2 player and is 'really good, too,' said Johnson, adding, 'She's a half-step behind Sophie. An excellent player. All business.'

Their addition has dropped last year's No. 2 player Kim Vennes to the No. 3 spot. This after the junior went an undefeated 15-0 at two singles in 2007. Freshmen Maria Ramirez and Ai Hatano, who Johnson said are 'evenly matched,' will compete for the No. 4 position

'The girls are just good in singles,' Johnson said. 'Everyone of these girls can play tennis. They're all focused and business-like on the court. There's a pretty decent chance that, if the girls play to their potential, we could move three to state.'

The Valiants' doubles lineup is no pushover, either. Junior Jane Christen and Greta Phillippsen form VC's No. 1 team for the second-straight season.

'Jane and Greta are really good,' Johnson said. 'They're going to challenge for a position at state. Jane is very feisty on the court. She has that doubles attitude.'

Johnson believes Valley Catholic's No. 2 duo of juniors Kate Takata and Jo Kim could also push for a state berth, though little separates the Valiants' No. 2, 3 and 4 teams.

'It's a close heat,' Johnson said. 'They're pretty competitive.'

Seniors captains Lani Nguyen and Liska Yamada are at third doubles and already beat LaSalle's No. 1 doubles team. After playing No. 3 and 4 singles last season, juniors Mel Rossetti and Sanaz Ibrihimi are combining forces at No. 4 doubles in 2008. Juniors Amanda Prouty and Julie Grove will also compete for varsity time.

The sum of the whole adds up to a team that could challenge for the district title, though Johnson is well aware of the tradition at Catlin Gabel and Oregon Episcopal.

'Catlin and OES are usually pretty dang good,' Johnson said. 'OES is going to have 15 girls that are club bred. I'm optimistic, but realistic. I'm not sure what to expect from OES and Catlin this year. I think we have a shot.'