EASTER BOWL: Girls’ 18s Semifinalists On a Tear

Alexa Noel, Gabby Price, Emma Navarro and Katie Volynets have shown all week that they are the most dominant junior girls tennis players in the United States.

The quartet advanced to the Coachella Valley’s version of the Final Four, and just like NCAA college basketball teams Loyola of Chicago, Michigan, Kansas and Villanova, on Saturday are seeking one more win to reach the pinnacle of their sport, in this case to play for an Adidas Easter Bowl title and USTA Spring National Championship gold ball.

Gabby Price by Dave Kenas / Easter Bowl

Noel (2015 14s finalist), Price (2015 12s winner), Navarro (2017 16s winner) and Volynets (2012 12s finalist) are no strangers to playing on one of junior tennis’ grandest stages, and in the shadows of Stadium Court at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden having each played before in an Easter Bowl final.

The four have a combined set record of 28-1 this week, with only the top-seeded Noel having dropped a set in the first round. On a steamy 98-degree day in the desert, Noel of Summit, N.J. beat No 10 Hurricane Tyra Black, Boca Raton, Fla., 6-3, 6-2; No. 8 Price of Boca Raton, Fla., downed Savannah Broadus of Carrollton, Texas, 7-5, 6-1 and Navarro of Charleston, S.C., got past No. 2 Margaryta Bilokin of New Canaan, Conn., 6-3, 6-4. No. 15 Volynets of Walnut Creek, Calif., never stepped on the court as No. 11 Chloe Beck of Watkinsville, Ga., was forced to withdraw with a back injury.

“I thought I played pretty well today against a very tough opponent,” said the 14-year-old Price, with a huge ice pack on her left ankle. “She made me work for all the points because she has such a flat game. But overall I thought I played pretty well despite spraining my ankle.”

Price led 5-0 in the second set, but her game dropped as she tried to close it out. “I get really nervous, always when I’m up, just to close it out,” she said.

Price will face the tough Noel in Saturday’s semifinal. Price and Noel are former training partners and remain good friends.

“I mean, on the court we’re not going to be friends,” Price said.

She said she remembers playing in the Easter Bowl final as an 11-year-old three years ago. “It was so fun, and the biggest tournament I’ve ever won.”

Price is being watched this week by her proud father Marc Price. “I’m so happy for her,” he said. “She deserves it and has worked so hard. I don’t know anyone who works harder than her. She’s a good kid off the court and is so disciplined.”

Marc said it’s hard being a dedicated tennis parent at times. “It’s not easy. I started with her at three and a half years old, and I’ve been with her on the court every day since then. We don’t always get along, but she trusts me and at the end of the day she knows I’m not going to steer her wrong.”

The Prices are originally from New York, and live at Woodfield Country Club in Boca Roca, Fla. For the past four months Gabby has trained with Ashley Cargill and Jelena Pandzic, the NAIA National singles champion in 2006 and 2007 for Fresno Pacific and the NCAA singles finals runner-up in 2004 at Fresno State. Pandzic coached CiCi Bellis to an Easter Bowl title back in 2014. Gabby was previously coached by Rick Macci for 10 years.

Another well-known coach in tennis circles was on hard Friday watching his student as Joseph Gilbert of Northern California was intently looking on as unseeded Jenson Brooksby of Carmichael, Calif., beat last year’s 16s Easter Bowl and Kalamazoo Boys’ Hardcourt Nationals champion Brandon Nakashima, 6-2, 6-3, in a Boys’ 18s ITF quarterfinal.

“My passing shots were really working good today,” said Brooksby, 17, who plays primarily USTA Pro Circuit Futures events. “I’m happy to be in the semifinals and really looking forward to playing tomorrow.”

All three other semifinalists besides Brooksby needed three sets to advance as top-seeded Tristan Boyer (Altadena, Calif.), Cannon Kingsley (Northport, N.Y.) and Siem Woldeab (La Mesa, Calif.) each posted wins. Kingsley beat Martin Andres of Flowery Beach, Ga., in the closest match of the day, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (6).

In the Girls’ 16s semifinals, unseeded India Houghton of Belvedere Tiburon, Calif., beat another unseeded player, Hibah Shaikh of Teaneck, N.J., 6-1, 6-3, to advance to Saturday’s singles final to start at 9 a.m. She will take on Anessa Lee of San Marino, Calif., in the other semifinal. Lee downed No. 8 Chidimma Okpara from Bronxville, N.Y., 6-2, 6-4.

In the Boys’ 16s finals Saturday also at 9 a.m., it will be No. 1 Keshav Chopra of Marietta, Ga., taking on No 2 Max McKennon of Newport Beach, Calif. Chopra beat No. 4 Harsh Parikh of Tucson, Ariz., 6-7 (8), 6-1, 6-3, and McKennon downed No. 8 Logan Zapp of Fleming Island, Fla., 6-2, 7-6 (6).

To keep up with all the Adidas Easter Bowl news, visit the website at www.easterbowl.com and check out the tournament on Facebook (www.facebook.com/EasterBowl) and Twitter (@easterbowl).

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