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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 24, 2005

Nation's top teens test their collegiate potential

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Those kids with the ridiculously precocious tennis games at Central O'ahu Regional Park the past few days are obviously not your usual park rats.

The U.S. Tennis Association National Boys and Girls 18 & Under Tournament concluded yesterday. Players from 18 states and Canada participated.

Girls and boys each had a draw of 64 players, with another 112 on the waiting list. Amanda Fink, the girls' champion, will soon play for USC.

This is a tournament the best national players peak for. Hawai'i's finest use it as a barometer for what's happening an ocean away. They hope to be on the court more than they are in the stands.

"The majority of the kids have made an investment of time and money to be here," says Brigham Young-Hawai'i coach Dave Porter. "They are interested in at least playing college tennis. They are learning about competing and looking for exposure. They want to find out how good they can be —Êif they have top-20 college potential or are just middle of the road."

A year ago, 'Aiea's Dennis Lajola took third here. It was an exceptionally high finish for anyone from Hawai'i, and particularly impressive because Lajola was "playing up" — he had just turned 15.

But for an ankle injury, Lajola would be here again. He is clearly the Hawai'i exception. Lajola's footspeed is remarkable and his strength, particularly after two years of fulltime training at Mainland academies, is impressive for someone his size.

Lajola, whose talent has been nurtured by the U.S. Tennis Association the past few years, can hit all the shots against any competition. It is a skill and mindset more Hawai'i players need, and need to see, which is why Punahou Director of Tennis Bernard Gusman brought the nationals here three years ago.

The tournament is affiliated with the USTA's High Performance program, designed to identify the country's best players at an early age and offer them enhanced education programs and competition. Ultimately, High Performance wants to create more players to compete on a world-class level.

Porter is now on the program's national committee, which includes Billie Jean King, Jack Kramer and Michael Chang.

"We need to get kids competing without the fear of losing," says Porter, also president of the U.S. Professional Tennis Association. "I think there are too many places around the country — and Hawai'i is one of them — where players don't compete because they are afraid of losing or dropping in the rankings. They are too young for it to matter. That fear comes from parents and coaches, usually.

"We need to create ways to make it fun and to get kids playing because they love the game."

Gusman is chair of the USTA/Hawai'i Pacific Section Coaches Commission. The group's goal is to identify local players with regional and national promise for High Performance, and give them a positive environment to develop.

"We try," Gusman says, "to locate more 'Dennises.' "

The emphasis is on players ages 8 to 12. They participate at Competitive Training Centers (CTC) four times a year. If they stay with it, this tournament will probably be there for them in a few years.

Maybe then, it will be more than a barometer. This year, Hawai'i girls filled about 20 percent of the draw. About half as many Hawai'i boys got in. Brooke Doane and Holden Ching stuck around until Monday in singles. According to Gusman, that equates to a top-20 finish.

Doane, from Kamehameha, and partner Christie Pagatpatan, of Waipahu, qualified for the National Spring Open next month by reaching the doubles final.

Reach Ann Miller at amiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8043.

Fink, Miller capture junior singles titles

Top-seeded Amanda Fink, ranked No. 2 nationally, defeated eighth-seeded Samantha Georgino, 7-5, 6-1, yesterday in the girls final of the USTA National Junior Open at the Central O'ahu Regional Park courts.

Second-seeded Wesley Miller edged fourth-seeded Alex Krueger-Wyman, 7-5, 6-4, to capture the boys title.

Britney Larson and Kristen McVitty won the girls doubles title by defeating the Hawai'i tandem of Brooke Doane and Christy Pagatpatan, 8-2.

In the boys doubles final, Krueger-Wyman and Johnathan Calienes beat Scott Hochenstein and Joshua Lederman, 8-6.

Rainbow Wahine win

Senior Lauren Fitzgerald, ranked 75th in yesterday's ITA rankings, helped Hawai'i (2-6) end its three-match skid yesterday, sweeping the No. 1 singles match as the Rainbow Wahine beat UC-Davis, 6-1, in California.

In other UH news, Ryan Sceats, a junior from Australia, was named the Western Athletic Conference Men's Player of the Week. Sceats (8-5) has won his past four matches, including two last week against players from Oklahoma and UNLV, both ranked in the country's top 75.

Ching a USTA director

Donna Ching is the new Director of Recreational Tennis for the U.S. Tennis Association/Hawai'i Pacific Section. Ching is responsible for coordinating assemblies with groups and schools and introducing tennis to new areas.

Ching plays in several USTA leagues and is an instructor for the 1-2-3 program in 'Aina Haina.