By SHEL SEGAL
ALHAMBRA – With Almont League season already underway, the Mark Keppel High girls tennis team has one goal on its mind – beat Alhambra.
While that didn't exactly go as planned as the Aztecs dropped a 14-4 decision to the Moors on Tuesday, the teams play again on Oct. 20 with Keppel hoping to stay in line for at least a share of the league title.
Keppel girls tennis coach Mike Ten, who is in his fourth season at the helm of the Aztecs, said he knows now is the time to win as things will change once the year is done.
"Each year it's a different team as girls graduate," he said. "This year we have many mostly returning girls. Next year will be a completely different story because of the 18 girls, 16 are seniors."
He added one factor driving his girls is the fact that Keppel has had so many winning girls tennis teams in the past.
"Strength is tradition," Ten said. "Mark Keppel has a tradition of winning in tennis. It sort of trickles down. The community of girls tennis is very unique. They're very into working in tradition, working as a family. … Most of them are here to understand they're trying to make the next year better."
One player, Maliah Pierribia, a junior singles players, said things on the team have gotten more connected over the past few seasons and that has made the girls better tennis players.
"Everything is little more organized," she said. "The girls know each other a lot more. They're more familiar with each other. We're comfortable."
She added the team's goals beyond beating Alhambra, the defending Almont League champions.
"We just want to win (the Almont League title) and place higher in (the CIF-Southern Section postseason)," Pierribia said.
Ten said Pierribia is the "rock" of the Aztecs' singles players.
"She's an aggressive player," Ten said of Pierribia. "All the way around she's a good player."
Other strong singles players, Ten said, are Michelle Lam and Vicky Chan.
"They're all playing very well," Ten said. "There are always things to improve on. But that's what we use our practice matches for.
Arianna Acuff, a senior doubles player, agreed with Pierribia that things have really started to come together for the Aztecs.
"We've improved a lot over the past four years," she said. "Our practices are more organized than they were my freshman year. We all try a lot harder and give so much more effort. We get along better. We communicate with each other more. It's just a lot of fun on top of a lot of work. We're a good group."
Acuff's doubles partner is Vivian Phu, a senior. Phu said something she has been working on more on the court is improving her volleys.
"At practice we work a lot on volleys, especially the doubles players," she said. "If we cut off the ball we can win the point quicker."
Phu added Ten has been instrumental at making the girls better tennis players.
"There's so many things," she said. "He gives us feedback when we do things wrong. He has us work on our game."
But most of all, the girls are talking to one another a lot more and it's paying off as the Aztecs have opened the season with a 2-1 league record, posting wins against San Gabriel and Schurr, Phu said.
"Then we communicate better," she said. "It helps us work together as a team."
And what can the Aztecs do better?
"We can always improve on our consistency," Ten said. "High school tennis is always an issue with how much training you get. There's only so much you can do once the season starts. You've got to go with what you've got. But you try to build for the next year."