201 E Chapman Ave, Fullerton, CA 92832


201 E Chapman Ave, Fullerton, CA 92832


201 E Chapman Ave, Fullerton, CA 92832


Athlete says team chemistry key to success

Junior Rebecca Balarie played her last season with partner Christina Sfatcu this year. They played a great final season, winning their 100th game and advancing to the 3rd round of CIF. (Photo by Josie Lee)

From gymnastics to ballet, then from soccer to volleyball, nothing stuck. Starting at age 5, I jumped from sport to sport until I finally picked up a tennis racket in eighth grade. Now I’m an All-Freeway League tennis player.

So what made sports finally click? Surprisingly, it was team spirit.

Freshman year I thought team spirit was a mythjust a gimmick coaches use to magically motivate us. But this year I felt a shift. As tighter bonds formed among my tennis teammates, I had to admit that I had genuine “Tribe Pride” in myself and my team.

Kate Luengo tried several sports before finding a home on the tennis courts. She says she was a horrible soccer player, and despite being 5’9, Kate is only a mediocre volleyball player. (Photos courtesy of Kate Luengo)

Tennis is a very physical sport but you really need mental game to be successful. When a tennis player is down by a lot of points, it’s nearly impossible to focus. During game point, a single mistake can lead to a loss for the individual or for the whole team. 

This stress is why it’s so important to have teammates who offer support without pressure. Whenever I’m feeling anxious, my teammates work to soothe and relax me. 

During games, spectators can hear our FUHS girls tennis team hyping up each other. One game when I was playing Sunny Hills’ No. 2 player, I kept missing my serves. My teammate, junior Abigail Kelly, helped calm my nerves and shouted encouragements which pushed me to come from behind and win the match.

Cheering on your teammates might sound simple, but you need to know that girls tennis in the Freeway League—especially with teams like Sunny Hills and Troy—is very competitive. It’s easy to feel intimidated, so the support of your teammates is the key to success. I’m sure that our positive attitudes contributed to the fact that our team was able to beat our two biggest rivalsSunny Hills and Troythis year. 

I vividly remember the moment I learned we secured the Sunny Hills victory on Oct. 10. I was coming off of the court after finishing a great game against the Lancer’s No. 2 singles player when one of my teammates ran up to me. When she told me the news that we were leading by 2 points, I felt shock then overwhelming pride. Yes, Tribe Pride. Sunny Hills has always been a formidable opponent. A team I dreamt of beating during my high school tennis career. I had hoped that we could have repeat victories next year, but then I learned that next year there won’t be a Freeway League. Troy and Sunny Hills will no longer be on our League schedule. But in the spirit of remaining positive, I’m realizing that our victories are all the more satisfying because they will be the final records in the Freeway League history books.

I’m even starting to think that a league change will be good. Although we will never play the same teams again, I feel that dividing leagues based on ability seems more fair for players. Playing schools closer to our skill level allows us to have better chances at winning league, something nearly impossible for us in the Freeway League.

Looking back, we actually lost our first match to Troy, but our team spirit meant we were open to trying new strategies including different formations, drills, and increased overall training.

We all wanted to see one another succeed. Senior Christina Sfatcu gives all the credit to our coach Akhom Inthavong. “He cultivated a comfortable and stress free environment where we were able to form relationships,” Christina said.

Senior Christina Sfatcu joined varsity tennis during her sophomore year and continued to play until senior year. She dominated in doubles alongside her partner Rebecca Balarie. (Photo by Josie Lee)

Our team had a strong win in the first round of CIF against Roosevelt High, but had a tough 10-8 loss to Cate High School in the second round.

Christina remembers how tired she was during her games against Cate. After she won her last game, Christina broke down crying in a combination of emotional relief and sadness as she realized she had played her last game with the team.

Even though the team was out of CIF, Christina and her doubles partner Rebecca Balarie traveled to Redlands University Nov. 20 to compete against the best doubles teams in Southern California. “The competition was intense, but Christina and I were able to go further than we expected,” Becca said. They ended the season with a tough loss during the third round, where they eventually ran out of steam after playing 4 tough sets. 

Christina describes this season as one of the most memorable and exciting of her three-year tennis career at FUHS. “I went into this season feeling confident with my partner,” she said. “I’m overall so proud of how our team played this year.”

Like Christina, I feel proud, too. I’ll be a junior next year and my younger sister will be attending FUHS as a freshman. Coach Inthavong is excited to see if the Luengo sisters might make a good doubles team. I’m just excited to introduce my sister to my other family, the family I’ve found here on the FUHS tennis courts. Because Tribe Pride isn’t just a slogan, it’s a game changer.

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