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Midvale Journal

Huskies strokin’ ball in hopes of repeating region championship

Sep 08, 2023 12:03PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High’s coach expects his No. 1 singles player Fabiana Gonzalez, seen here playing against Alta Aug. 10, to be a state champion contender this year.

Fabiana Gonzalez picked up a tennis racket when she was 3. In Venezuela, she spent a dozen hours every week practicing her stroke, challenging herself to get better.

Her first tournament was at age 10.

“We played on a super small court because it was an orange ball tournament,” she said. “I hit the ball hard, but it was out (of bounds) because of the shorter court. I lost in the first round. I played Camila (Andrade) and that’s how we met. We became friends and our parents became friends.”

Fast forward six years and now, Gonzalez is still perfecting her stroke as she, and Andrade, both play tennis for Hillcrest High.

Juniors Gonzalez and Andrade are the Huskies No. 1 and No. 2 singles players, respectively, on a team that only has five seniors.

“I have a very young team, but I have five varsity players who returned,” said head coach Creighton Chun. “Every year, we’ve been getting better. We graduated two key players, Sowmya Paritala, who was strong at third singles, and Lily Greenwood, who played on our No. 1 doubles team.”

Even with the returners, Chun said this season started early.

“There was one week after tryouts then you have your team, but you still have to figure out who is playing varsity and JV with challenge matches and who is playing which position and get those things settled right off because the season starts before school,” he said. “Then, some of that may change for a game because a player may be gone on vacation yet.”

The Huskies had five matches scheduled before school began. As of press deadline, they had won one and lost two.

Chun plans to continue to hold challenge matches through the season, “so girls will have a chance to move up into varsity.” He also may move players around to play singles or doubles with different partners.

“We will see who they match up and play well together with,” he said. “When you have a girl that’s coming every day to practice, getting better and improving, she should be rewarded if she plays better—and you want your best person to play.”

Besides Gonzalez and Andrade, several players—senior Anna Fetzer, junior Jacklyn Wei, junior Ava Butler, sophomore Ava Booker, sophomore Rosemary Lu, and others—may be playing singles or doubles to determine the best matches, he said.

This year, the Huskies have 33 players on the team, the largest in recent history, Chun said, adding that after years of trying to find tennis courts to practice and compete on because of the rebuild of Hillcrest High, players now can use the new courts on campus. 

“We don’t have to have split practices or locations because we have enough courts right here and that’s a big difference. It will help to build our program,” he said, adding that the team also has a tennis ball machine. “That’s a game changer. Now my brother (Chris, his assistant coach) and I can be coaching, have one court set up with the ball machine going for some players to work on groundstrokes or volleys while we can work with other players. This way, girls won’t be waiting for their turn to do some drills so we can build this into a more competitive program.”

Chun even scheduled some non-region competitions amongst the new region they’re playing, 4A region 10.

“I’m just giving my team some practice before region; we’re going for the championship,” he said about the Sept. 13-14 region championship that Hillcrest is hosting, about two weeks before state, Sept. 29-30. “Fabiana is one of the favorites for the state title. Last year, she should have made it to at least to the semis, if not for her wrist injury.”

Gonzalez said although she had treatments, “I kept playing even when it was hurting. I wanted to play my matches for high school. After state I took a break for a couple weeks from tennis and just worked out to stay in shape.”

That gave her an opportunity to heal before playing tougher competition in U-18 tournaments this summer as a 16 year old.

“I wanted to get better rankings to play in bigger tournaments. I play tennis to get better,” she said.

It was her dad, who sometimes calls her “Serena” (after former American tennis professional Serena Williams “because he loves her game”), who put Gonzalez and her eighth-grade sister, Luci, in tennis lessons because “he liked watching it a lot.”

“I love tennis,” Gonzalez said. “I like that it creates discipline for me to work on things. The best thing is playing competitively in tournaments.”

The Gonzalez family came to the U.S. when she was 12.

“The economy is not great in our country, so our money wasn’t strong and it was getting harder to pay for stuff to live. We decided to come here so we would have a future to go to college and have more opportunities,” she said, adding she wants to play tennis at a college in Florida, California or “somewhere hot.”

The honor roll and advanced placement student practices two hours daily with her club team. Andrade plays with a different club.

“In Venezuela, we played each other a lot of times, usually in the state tournament. But here in Utah, we’ve only played to see who is No. 1 and No. 2 at the school. She knows how to play deep and then she’ll drop shot you,” Gonzalez said, adding that she personally likes to play the baseline and when the opportunity arises, “be aggressive to finish the point fast.”

She believes in her teammates.

“We have a good team; we have good doubles teams,” Gonzalez said. “We want to win region back-to-back and we want to play to win at state.” λ