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VarsityXtra tennis preview

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Posted: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 8:05 pm | Updated: 3:26 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

In her first year coaching, Shelley Dinges' girls tennis team at Notre Dame Prep won one match.

Six years later and three consecutive 4A-II state championships later, one wonders how the program has reached such heights.

At least part of the answer lies in a time when most people, even top high school athletes, are ... well, lying in bed.

At least twice a week during the season, Dinges has her girls working out before sunrise. They work on conditioning and core strength in the morning and tennis in the afternoon.

"If you want to be the best in the state, you have to work harder than every other team," Dinges said.

It hasn't always been that way for Dinges. She has slowly implemented one of the hardest tennis training regimens in the state. With each successful season, she ups the ante, and the kids buy in.

"Once I built the program, the kids have worked harder and harder," Dinges said. "They know playing for me is not easy."

With the program's success, Dinges has the credibility to push her players to raise the bar.

"Our coach expects a lot of commitment and to put ourselves entirely into practice and playing and trying to get better," three-time 4A-II state doubles champion Jackie Chang said.

The benefits of the conditioning program are tangible - evidence can be viewed in the trophy room - but the psychological advantage may be just as important.

"When you are out there working and trying to get more endurance and trying to get stronger, you feel better when you are playing," Chang said. "You don't get as tired, and I think you feel more confident."

The Saints don't mind sharing their secret to success. They know they won't likely be replicated.

When opponents buckle, they can't blame it on breakfast.

"It is not just developing the game itself but their bodies," Dinges said. "When it comes down to the end of the season they can go three matches. A lot of times it comes down to who can outlast whom."

Did you know?

Chandler senior and foreign exchange student Luisa Lopes played on the national Brazilian team last season. Lopes, along with USTA tournament-tested sophomore Naida Ortega, will join forces as a potent doubles partnership.

Arcadia freshman Sophie Zerbib is the fourth sibling to play varsity tennis for the school.

Desert Mountain moves back into 5A-II after spending two seasons in 5A-I, where the Wolves didn't finish in the top two either year. Desert Mountain won back-to-back state titles in 2006 and 2007 in 5A-II and will look to dethrone two-time defending champion Glendale Ironwood Ridge.

Key dates:

Feb. 26-27: Kiwanis/Ironwood tournament

March 5-6: Paseo/Ironwood West Valley Invitational

March 5-6: Magin Invitational

April 9-10: Chandler/Hamilton Invitational

April 24: Miami Tennis Invitational

Other teams to watch

Desert Vista boys. "We didn't lose a lot," coach Wayne Brimely said. Desert Vista finished second in the state in 2008 and could be ready to strike in 2010.

Corona del Sol girls. They may be young, but with top player Kelsey Lawson back on a team that finished second in the state last year, could be ready to win a state championship.

Chandler girls. They finished 10-4 last year and added a top foreign-exchange player.

Saguaro girls. Coach Frank Ruben brings back an experienced group from last year's state qualifying team and could be ready for a deeper run.

Desert Mountain boys. It's one of the deepest teams in the state, and coach Dan LeFevre is comfortable with the move into 5A-II.

Five players to watch

Kelsey Lawson, Corona del Sol, Sr. Coach Carol Sandvig says Lawson has a "big game, in the mold of today's power hitters." Lawson, a team leader who Sandvig says she relies on, goes for her second 5A-I singles state championship in 2010.

Ahmad Saleem, Desert Vista, Sr. Coach Wayne Brimley says of Saleem: "He is kind of like a cat, ever elusive, and then at the last minute he slaps you and like a cat plays with the mouse. That strong stroke takes people by surprise." Saleem finished third in 5A-I singles last year and is one of the front-runners to take over the top spot left by the graduation of Mountain Pointe's Andy Nguyen.

Gina Losole, Notre Dame, Jr. Losole has a chance to repeat as 4A-II singles champ, which would give Notre Dame a fifth straight title in the singles division.

Nicholas Montoya, Horizon, So. Montoya is the No. 1-ranked 16-and-under singles player in the USTA Southwest and the reigning 5A-II singles state champion. Scary thought: Coach John Waltz thinks Montoya has improved since last year.

Mariana Hudson, Seton Catholic, Sr. Hudson, also an equestrian, could be in the running to compete for a singles showing in 4A-II against Losole.

Other players to watch

Naida Ortega, Chandler, So.; Kin Luu, Coronado, Sr.; Kelsey Schiller, Saguaro, Sr.; Vickie Smith, Saguaro, Sr.; Jeremy Shapiro, Desert Mountain, Sr.; Lidia Csernak, Hamilton, Fr.; Melanie Reyes, Basha, Jr.; Ellie Hoffman, Arcadia, Sr.; Isaabelle Sicard, Dobson, Jr.; Bo Oelkers, Notre Dame, So.

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