As if we need more markers trumpeting the rapid passage of time, consider that Melwin Pereira is now a few weeks into his tenth season as San Marino High School’s head varsity tennis coach. Pereira himself even acknowledges that the decade has gone by faster than a love-love match, but if the accomplished mentor thought it was going to be business-as-usual, well, he’d better think again.
“This is the most inexperienced team I have had, for sure,” Pereira said earlier this week. “Five of our top six players graduated and we lost seven seniors in all. This is a rebuilding year.”
Last year’s Lady Titans won the program’s tenth consecutive Rio Hondo League championship and advanced to the CIF Division 1 quarterfinals, where they were eliminated by Corona Del Mar. At least Pereira and his charges can sleep well at night knowing they were sent packing by the eventual CIF and State champs.
But this is another year, and Pereira has more tricks up his sleeve. He has taken the rare step of entering the Lady Titans in—gasp—a tournament.
“I’m excited about it,” Pereira said. “This is a good way for the girls to get a lot of play. This will be a good tournament for us.”
San Marino defeated perennially tough Valencia in the season-opener by a final score of 10-8 and has four more daunting non-league matches on the schedule.
“The biggest challenge is to get this team to do well and win a league title,” Pereira told The Tribune. “In all of the years I have been here, when I have a young team or an inexperienced team, we don’t do well at the beginning. We are getting used to the system that we have preached here and I am very strict with that system. It will take time.”
The 2018 roster is chock full of young ladies with little next level experience. Junior Kiara Tatsuno is making her varsity appearance.
“Kiara was a jayvee player for the past two years and I am moving her and others up to start training,” Pereira said. “She is a fighter I like her feistiness.”
Sophomore Anna Moller is in a similar position.
“She played jayvee last year and has really improved her game at the net,” Pereira said. “She is also a fighter. I like girls who go out there and fight for the ball. There is a chance she can start for me because of her net game. I can use Anna at doubles.”
Junior Amanda Liu has also impressed the coach.
“Amanda is a singles player just like Anna,” Pereira explained. “I love the way Amanda moves on the court. She really fights and never gives up. I am giving her a chance to start learning how to play at the net. I am very excited about her and she has a great attitude.”
Alyssa Luff is one of four seniors trying to fill the experience gap.
“Alyssa has a lot of work to do in becoming more consistent, but I see some great thing,” Pereira said. “I would love to see her able to contribute to the team. I have so many stories where a girl ends up contributing her senior year. That is my dream.”
Senior Erina Widjaja is also jockeying for playing time.
“She needs to just relax a little bit,” Pereira explained. “Erina has the skill to get it done, she just needs to trust herself and let it go.”
Caitlyn Nguyen is a four-year varsity starter and Pereira has rewarded her hard work by naming the senior one of two captains.
“Caitlyn is a lefthander and that is a real asset to the team,” the coach said. “She has been a starter since her freshman year and obviously will be a starter this year. I am looking to her for a lot of leadership. I know Caitlyn would like to leave with another championship.”
Kayla Chen was also entrusted with a captain moniker.
“Kayla has improved a lot,” Pereira said of the senior. “She can definitely help the team this year. She knows what to do and what the program is all about.”
Freshman Camdyn Wu will try to crack the starting lineup.
“Camdyn worked very hard in our summer camp and has really improved,”
Pereira said. “I give her a lot of credit because she took a lot of heat from me. Camdyn is another left-hander and that as I mentioned is a huge asset. Right now she is very inexperienced, but I think she can contribute.”
Freshman Elaine Wu (Pereira made appoint to indicate she and Camdyn are not sisters!) has also impressed.
“Elaine is two-handed on both sides and is a very solid player,’ Pereira said. “She plays a great deal of tennis away from the team and that helps a lot. Elaine can do a lot with the ball and I feel she will really help us.”
Junior Grace Carter will be counted onto contribute to the doubles effort.
“Grace is stepping it up and I am challenging her to work on her level of focus,” Pereira explained. “I need her to step it up and be a leader. It is my goal to see Grace mentoring younger players this season.”
Sophomore Rakel Ang earned plenty of valuable varsity experience last fall.
“She has the skill to play tennis but she also has that competitive nature coaches are always looking for,” Pereira said. “Rakel is always fighting for the ball. She is at the top of my team as far as competing and playing hard is concerned. She is good all over the court and will help us a lot.”
Junior Katie Kirkendall can score points anywhere Pereira assigns her.
“Katie can play either doubles or singles for us,” the coach said. “She has a great attitude and is working hard to improve her volleys. Last year, Katie went to the semifinals of the league individuals. I am expecting good things from her.”
Anessa Lee is mentioned last, but is certainly not the least. In fact, the junior is among the most decorated players in the rich history of San Marino High School girls’ tennis, having claimed the Girls’ 16 & under championship of the prestigious Easter Bowl tennis tournament this past spring.
“Everyone looks up to her,” Pereira said of the nationally ranked player. “Anessa is by far the most-watched player in the Rio Hondo League. We are setting many goals for her and by the end the year it will be interesting to see what she has accomplished.”
On a team basis, Pereira wants to first accomplish the Lady Titans’ 11thconsecutiveRioHondoLeaguetitle.
“It will be tough, much tougher than in the past,” the coach said. “Several of the other schools have ranked players and we are very young. We have a lot of talent, but it will be very important for us to focus and compete.”