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Rio Mesa girls’ tennis team starts slow but recovers to win league title

Dominique Derse is playing tennis.
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Rio Mesa High’s girls’ tennis team found out beloved head coach Steve Worthington was stepping down a few weeks before the season started.

The Spartans were lost without Worthington, who led the team for 44 seasons but will continue coaching the boys’ tennis team in the spring. Rio Mesa, which doesn’t feature a senior on the roster, started 0-6 this season.

“We knew Coach Worthington was going to retire soon,” junior Alexandra Alamillo said. “We just didn’t want it to be this year. We didn’t know how to handle the news. We didn’t have chemistry to start the season.”

First-year head coach Ron Edwards had huge shoes to fill.

Edwards joined the team one week before the season started. He took his time getting to know the players personally and on the court.

“I didn’t want to rush things,” the coach said. “We were put in a tough situation, but we made the most of it. Once I figured out who can do what, I set the lineup and the girls took off. They’re amazing girls with a lot of talent.”

The Spartans (8-7 overall) recovered from the rocky nonleague schedule to finish a perfect 8-0 in the Pacific View League. Rio Mesa won its first league title since 2011. The team captured six straight Pacific View crowns from 2006 to 2011 under Worthington.

“We all loved Worthington, and it took us a while to adjust to Coach Edwards,” sophomore Allison Mitsuuchi said. “(Edwards) made us run and condition a lot, which we didn’t like at first. It actually made us better. Edwards knows a lot about tennis. He’s a good coach.”

Rio Mesa defeated Norwalk 12-6 Wednesday at home in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs. The Spartans play at 2 p.m. today at Poly of Pasadena in the second round.

Edwards transferred from Pacifica as a science teacher this year and hadn’t considered coaching tennis. His last gig as a tennis head coach was in 2005 at Nordhoff.

“I got a call one day asking if I wanted to be the tennis coach,” said Edwards, who played at Cal State Fullerton. “I said yes, and I’ve loved being back on the tennis court. I have a big passion for tennis.”

Junior captain Dominique Derse didn’t lose a set in Pacific View singles action. The league singles champion has a strong serve and thrives at attacking the net.

Derse said she learned a lot from Audrey Mayer, last season’s No. 1 singles star.

“I was nervous when I got the No. 1 singles spot,” Derse said. “I knew all eyes were on me to get wins. I remembered how Audrey handled the pressure. She was calm and competitive. That’s how I wanted to play.”

Derse is an honors student and the president of Spartans for a Cure club on campus.

Alamillo and Mitsuuchi teamed up to win the league doubles title. Alamillo, a lefty, and Mitsuuchi, a righty, instantly bonded on the court.

Mitsuuchi’s mother, Leslie, played for Worthington in the 1980s.

“My mom gets flashbacks of her playing days when she sees me at practice,” Allison Mitsuuchi said.

Alamillo was the 300-meter hurdles Pacific View champion in track and field in the spring.

Malainy Lyskin, a sophomore, has flourished at No. 2 singles. She’s a three-sport standout who also excels at water polo and swimming. Her older brother, Zander, stars for the boys’ water polo team.

Amanda Gonzaga and Chuan Mei Custance are key singles players. Magie Le, Emily Ledin, Robin Ryoberg, Merissa Morey, Taylor Hanson and Mary Babiano contribute at doubles.

“We were so excited to win league,” Malainy Lyskin said. “We came together as a team. We had some struggles but we picked it up. We played hard the whole season.”

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