PASADENA — Singles girls’ tennis player Lilit Vardanyan of Burbank High and the Crescenta Valley doubles team of Jackie Dilanchyan and Alexa Gregorian found themselves in tough situations Wednesday in finals matches of the Pacific League Tournament.
Vardanyan, a junior, didn’t play well early in her championship contest against Arcadia’s Sharlene Song and, as a result, trailed in the opening set by four games.
Seniors Dilanchyan and Gregorian also struggled in their first set against Burbank’s Meredy Gharabegi and Elizabeth Sanchez. The Falcons fell in the first set and were two points away from elimination in a third-set tiebreaker.
But both the singles player and doubles team would eventually enjoy impressive comebacks when their matches were complete.
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Vardanyan, the No. 1 seed, fought back and won six straight games to capture the first set and finished the comeback by taking the second set against the No. 2-seeded Song, as she walked off the court with a 7-5, 6-3 victory to secure the singles championship.
Dilanchyan and Gregorian, the No. 2 seed, shook off a first-set loss, rallied in the second and despite trailing by four games in the tiebreaker to the No. 1 Bulldogs pair, battled to earn the title with a 5-7, 6-4, 10-8, result.
Despite earning two victories over Song in their head-to-head meetings during the regular season, Vardanyan got off to a shaky start, as she and her Apaches opponent matched power for power in a baseline-heavy game. Vardanyan then found herself in trouble, trailing, 5-1, in the opening set.
“I wasn’t nervous at all at the start, I just played the wrong game,” Vardanyan said. “You need to play a certain game against certain people, you just can’t play with one game. I started playing with my plan ‘A’ and that didn’t work, so I had to switch to my plan ‘B.’ That seemed to work.”
Vardanyan began to play more of a finesse game, frustrating Song with an array of drop shots and using angles to get the ball past her opponent. The new strategy worked, as Vardanyan went on a roll and finally took the lead, 6-5. Serving for the set, Vardanyan was looking at set-point until Song came back to tie it. Song then had a chance to pull out the win in the game, but an ace by Vardanyan gave the advantage to the Bulldogs player once again and the junior was able to finish it off.
But like the opener, Vardanyan found herself trailing in the second set, 2-0.
“My coach [Loi Phan] told me just to relax and change the game up and try and use my drop shot or my slice a little bit more,” Vardanyan said.
Vardanyan rallied to win six of the next seven games to secure her first championship.
It was the first singles title by a Burbank player since Marianna Khachatryn won a championship in the Foothill League as a freshman in 2003.
Vardanyan started her day by easily downing No. 5 Sara Kim of Hoover in the semifinals, 6-1, 6-0.
Dilanchyan and Gregorian were taking on a Burbank team that included a seasoned player in Gharabegi. The Burbank senior was making her third straight appearance in the finals after advancing to the semifinals as a freshman. She was looking for her first title.
“Meredy has been to the finals so many times before, I would have really liked to see her win it, especially as a senior,” Phan said.
But Dilanchyan and Gregorian had other plans. After playing a close first set in which it lost, the Falcons’ duo stormed back to win the second set and force a winner-take-all tiebreaker.
In the third set, Gharabegi and Sanchez looked to have things well in hand, going up, 8-4, and needing just two more points to win the title. But the Crescenta Valley tandem picked itself up, winning six straight points to take the championship.
“When we were down in the tiebreaker, we just didn’t want to think about the score,” said Dilanchyan, who made her third trip to the semifinals. “We just had to win the next point and then think about winning the next one.”
Said Gregorian: “It feels great to win the championship. We just tried not to get down after we lost the first set. We just tried to stay focused and tried to stay positive.”
Dilanchyan and Gregorian won their semifinal contest against No. 3 Ashley Gao and Tiffany Hsieh of Arcadia, 6-3, 6-4.
Despite falling in her semifinal match to Song, No. 3 Nicole Merrit of Burbank bounced back to win the third-place match against Kim, 8-1.
“I was really disappointed when I lost my first match,” said Merrit, a freshman. “She was a very good player and I enjoy playing against her. I was just out there trying my best.
“I think playing her I improved my game as well. Hopefully I can keep improving and come back next year and play here again.”
The Crescenta Valley and Burbank doubles teams, along with Vardanyan, will take part in the CIF Southern Section Individual Tournament on Nov. 25 at a site to be determined.