The sport of tennis doesn’t offer the typical landmarks for those offering a narrative to someone not in attendance at the event, but the CIF girls’ singles championship match earlier this month was anything but typical. San Marino High School senior Anessa Lee had survived a shaky start and was steadily gaining control of her opponent, and all doubts about who was going to leave the Seal Beach Tennis Center with the title were laid to rest midway through the third set. Tied at one set apiece and ahead 2-0 in the third, Lee pounded the latest in what was an almost constant barrage of thumping backhands past a lunging Casie Wooten that, despite her opponent’s game effort, slid the rest of the chips to Lee’s side of the table. Wooten placed her hands on her hips, took a deep breath and searched the crisp, cloudless skies for an answer. Finding none, the Chadwick senior succumbed to the inevitable as Lee cruised to a 2-6, 6-0, 6-0 decision and just the third girls’ singles championship in school history.
The victory capped a remarkable career for Lee, who will be taking her talents to Vanderbilt, where the daughter of Pearl and Albert Lee has accepted a full ride to play for the Commodores. In her four years of Lady Titan tennis, Anessa lost on only one occasion: a CIF individual match in her freshman year, to St. Anthony’s High School’s Eryn Cayetano, who now plays for the Women of Troy at USC. Otherwise, she was undefeated throughout her career, which ended with her holding the championship trophy amidst her family and a few friends who made the trek southward.
Lee joins Nicole Hummel (1991) and Luana Magnani (1999) as San Marino High School’s two previous champions. Pat Varga and Debbie Westbrook teamed up and claimed the CIF doubles title back in 1972.
Afterwards, Lee acknowledged a case of the jitters, to the point where San Marino High School tennis Coach Melwin Pereira quipped that his star player was “human.”
“I had never seen Anessa that nervous before,” Pereira said. “It is very normal that she was so nervous. She was the #1 seed and she had everything to lose.”
With a couple days to let the experience sink in, Lee agreed.
“I definitely felt the nerves and pressure before going out to play, which doesn’t happen very often,” Lee said. “This was one of the first times I was playing for something bigger than myself, and I really wanted to make my family, friends, and school proud.”
With his player facing elimination in what was her final high school tennis match, Pereira encouraged Lee to relax and take deep breaths.
“He told me I had to calm down,” Lee said.
Lee even fell behind in the first game of the second set before she turned things around.
“After that, it was all Anessa,” Pereira said. “She played every game like her life was on the line. And against another top player like Casie Wooten, who will be playing Division 1 tennis, too. It was impressive that Anessa was able to come back like that. She was able to take direction, and that was the key. But above even her athleticism and tennis skill Anessa is a class act. She knows what she is doing on the court and is never a diva.”
Anessa is currently ranked #11 in the nation in the Girls Under 18 age group as determined by tennis recruiting.net. She won the prestigious Easter Bowl singles championship in 2016, was a doubles finalist in the Girls 16 age group at the United States Tennis Associations’ Winter Nationals and made it to the finals of the 2018 United States Indoor Championships.
“I feel so humbled and honored to win the CIF championship and proudly represent San Marino High School,” Anessa concluded. It feels amazing to win my last high school match and end my career on a good note. I could not have done it without the help of my family, friends, and coaches and I just feel so blessed.”
The feeling is certainly mutual.
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