First-time player leads Malibu to top of the league

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Head coach Joyce Stickney (far left) and the Malibu High boys tennis team is getting ready for the Citrus Coast League Championships next week and start the CIF playoffs after that. Photos by Joyce Stickney

Malibu defeated Northview 10-8 at home in the opening round of the postseason

Malibu High senior Amar Taha had only played tennis sparingly before this spring. 

“I’ve played a couple times with my brother, a couple of times with my friends,” he said, “but nothing too much.”

However at the urging of friends, the 17-year-old, who is a striker and defender on the Malibu Sharks soccer team, decided to grab a racket and give it a swing on the tennis court as a member of the Sharks boys tennis team.

“I wanted to try something new,” he said. “I decided to give this a shot. The past couple of years the team has been really good, so that was a motivating factor.”

Malibu has been Citrus Coast League title contenders the past few seasons. Taha’s addition to the squad had them atop the four-team league standings entering the final week of the regular season on Monday. He is the Sharks’ No. 1 singles player and has the wins to prove it. Taha said it hasn’t been easy though.

“I’m not an experienced player,” he said. “I do enough. I’m a consistent player. I don’t make a lot of mistakes. That allows me to stay in games. I have been fortunate to find a way to win games because of that consistency.”

Sharks head coach Joyce Stickney said Taha has been a stellar surprise for the team. 

“At first, I thought he was coming out to enjoy the camaraderie, enjoy the sport,” Stickney recalled. “Then, I find out he is a player that uses strategy and smarts. He is also competitive. He will look at the scores of the other teams and figure out who is ahead by how many points. He is someone paying attention to how we can be better. He has improved so quickly, so immensely.”

Taha improved his record to 8-1 in Malibu’s 10-8 victory over Hueneme on April 11. The win gave the Sharks an 8-1 record in the Citrus Coast League. They played Carpinteria for the league title on Tuesday. The group hosts Nordoff on Thursday. The Sharks play in the league tournament at Hueneme High School in Oxnard on April 22 and 24. 

Taha said Malibu is a confident squad.

“After we got off to a good 3-0 start, we all realized the potential this team has and that we can make a run and win the entire league,” he recalled. “That is our goal. That is what we are going to try and do.” 

Stickney said the team is a delight to coach. 

“They have really been able to turn it on for the matches,” she said. 

The 13-member team includes seniors Grant Pernice, Joseph Chu, Solel Marques, Stephen Smith, Vince Carcano, Micah Fong, and Neko Marazzi. Sophomores Ore Porat and Topher Hilling are also on the roster with freshmen Pendle Livesey, Levi Borress, and Noah Levin. Marques and Fong are the team captains. 

Stickney said the freshman, who only played the sport for fun previously, have also been competitive boost for Malibu. 

“This has also presented an opportunity for our seniors to mentor the younger people,” she said. “We have really strong leadership. Our top players are all seniors.” 

Fong said it is important for the seniors to be leaders.

“This year’s freshman class is very promising for future seasons, and by mentoring them we give them the right outlook on the sport and allow them to foster their interest in it,” he said. “By the time these freshman are seniors, I bet the team will look great.” 

Stickney recalled instances where a senior Shark put his arm around a younger teammate’s shoulder to encourage him after a tough match. At team dinners, the coach stated, seniors always bring freshmen into their conversations. 

“They aren’t cliquey,” Stickney said. 

The team aspect of tennis factored into Malibu’s victory over Carpinteria earlier this season. At the end of the nine singles and nine doubles sets, the contest was tied 9-9. However, the Sharks were given the victory because their players won more games over their Carpinteria opponents. 

The triumph exemplified how the Sharks are a team, Stickney remembered. 

“Every game you win might be the deciding factor,” she said. “Even if you lose the match, if you win as many games as possible, that might help your team win.”

Taha stated that Carpinteria is Malibu’s toughest competition.

“They are a great team,” he said. “They are the one team we have to beat and get over the hump to win a title.” 

Taha is an example of the tough competitiveness Malibu has displayed on the court all season. 

“He has had some really tough games with really long points,” Stickney said. “It was Ramadan, so he has been fasting, and you would never know it. He never complains. Even if the game goes into a tiebreaker, he stays strong.” 

The CIF Southern Section playoffs follow the Citrus Coast League Championships. Last spring, the Sharks advanced to the second round of the Division Championships, where they lost to the Schurr Spartans 13-5. Malibu defeated Northview 10-8 at home in the opening round of the postseason.

Taha said this season has been special.

“I try to give it my all in everything I do, but mainly for the guys around me,” he said. “I just wanted to do my part and try to win games. We have a great group of guys.” 

Marques expects he and his teammates to win the Sharks’ first Citrus Coast League crown since 2016.

“It will be extremely exciting considering we have almost never won it before,” he said. “The tennis team is very successful and strong this year.”