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OJAI – A historic boys tennis season for University continued Saturday night on the storied hard courts at the 120th Ojai tournament. The Trojans, however, completed the trek with some company from Orange County.
Valencia also made history under the lights at Libbey Park as the Ojai finals returned from a two-year absence caused by the pandemic.
Senior Conrad Brown became the third University player to claim the prestigious singles title, defeating Mira Costa senior Kelly Giese 6-1, 6-4 in the final.
The top-seeded doubles team of Warren Pham and Advik Mareedu became the first Valencia team to capture an Ojai crown, defeating University’s SangHyuk Im and Omar Khayat 6-1, 6-3 to cap an impressive run at the tournament.
University also captured the Griggs Memorial Challenge Trophy, which goes to the team champion, for the eighth time, which ranks second all-time to Santa Barbara’s 14.
The Trojans, ranked No. 1 in CIF-SS Division 1, are 21-0 this spring, including a title at the National High School Tennis All-American Boys Team Tournament in late March. Veteran Trojans coach John Kessler earned his 800th career victory — for boys and girls combined — during the tournament.
For the UC Santa Barbara-bound Brown, the Ojai singles trophy was a coveted goal.
“It’s a huge title for me,” said Brown, seeded second. “It’s something I wanted to do at the beginning of the year, winning this (and the) All-American. … Now we’re onto CIF and states, hopefully.”
Pham and Mareedu, both bound for Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, didn’t drop a set during the tournament.
“They just got better as the competition got better,” Valencia coach Albert Lai said. “(It’s) their chemistry. They’ve been working together for four years.”
Brown advanced to the final with a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory in the semifinals against hard-serving Marcus Sebastian of Calabasas at nearby Weil Tennis Academy.
In an intense third set, Brown put away a volley at the net en route to a critical break point and 4-2 lead.
He later reached for a forehand winner down the line to quickly take the next game and extend his lead to 5-2.
Brown sparked the surge by winning a long rally earlier in the third set. He kept the point alive with a save along the fence and then stretched for a backhand shot that sailed over Sebastian for a winner.
In the other singles semifinals, Giese, an uncommitted senior, defeated Canyon junior and Navy commit Steve Nguyen 7-5, 6-3.
Im and Khayat reached the doubles finals with a 6-4, 6-4 win against Austin Harvill and Ronith Sreeram of King of Riverside, screaming “Let’s go Conrad!” after securing match point.
Pham and Mareedu moved to the finals with a 6-2, 6-4 triumph against Caleb Settles and Ronald Chen of Claremont in a quick semifinal that lasted about an hour.