Since 2019, the Palm Desert girls’ tennis team has had a stranglehold on the Desert Empire League, winning every singles and doubles league title.
That ended Thursday.
And it ended in emphatic fashion as Shadow Hills’ Isabella Pimentel stormed her way to the 2023 DEL singles title, steamrolling anyone who got in her way.
She won her two preliminary matches 8-0, then on Thursday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden won her semifinal 6-0, 6-0 and the championship match 6-0, 6-0. That added up to an unprecedented title without losing a game: a perfect 40-0. The senior has been waiting for this moment, finishing third each of the past two years.
“I’m feeling really great, but also very humble, because I couldn’t have done this without so much support,” Pimentel said. “I’ve been working toward this for a while. It’s really fulfilling and to achieve this, I mean it was senior year so there was no next year.”
While Pimentel struck a blow for the Knights in singles, the Aztec train kept rolling in doubles, and it was two familiar faces grabbing back-to-back titles. Palm Desert cousins Leyla and Sheyla Rizvanbegovic captured a second straight DEL doubles championship, topping Aztec teammates Audrey Park and Zoe Lopez 6-1, 6-3 in the championship match.
This is actually the third consecutive title for Sheyla, who teamed with Namita Khanchustambham in 2021 to win as a sophomore. She has now won over 80 consecutive DEL sets, but this was a fun one in that she was reunited with her cousin Leyla, who had been playing singles most of the year.
“I had a fun undefeated season (with partner Romy Kirsch), but it was great to get back with my cousin and cap off the senior year the same way we did last year,” Sheyla said. “I missed playing with her during the season because our chemistry is unmatched. I’ve had great partners over the years, but never felt anything like what we have with another partner.”
Pimentel has the complete tennis package and she put it on display Thursday. In the final against Palm Desert sophomore Allison Smith, the Knights’ star was relentless. She mixed a powerful serve with a variety of baseline groundstrokes, peppering Smith, who, to her credit, got a lot of balls back, but could never string enough together to get Pimentel off balance.
Pimentel has a varied game you don’t see often at the high school level. She can hit with power, change pace, use tricky spins, slices, topspin, you name it. When she hits a winner she particularly likes, she shouts out a motivational “Let’s go!” and uses that momentum in the next point.
“She’s an all-around player and she got stronger this year, which has helped. And she has unbelievable serve, which has made her kind of dominant this year,” Knights coach Jason Leggett said, referring to Pimentel’s perfect record on the season. “But really it’s her mental game. She’s just mentally stronger than her opponents, and she sort of wears them down.”
Pimentel credits all of her coaches, particularly Gordon ZawTun, with whom she started when she was around 7 years old, and her family and teammates for providing a support system that has carried her to where she is now.
Another secret to her success is that she tries to keep an even keel during a match, never too high or too low.
“I could get upset about the mistakes I make in the course of a match, but I try not to do that and just play one point at a team, try to keep it consistent that way,” she said. “Keeping that mental state is key for me.”
She also hopes her win will have a lasting effect at Shadow Hills even after she’s gone. She became the first Shadow Hills girls’ tennis player to win a DEL title and only the second non-Palm Desert player to do so, joining Palm Springs’ Shekinah Daffon, who won the first DEL singles title in 2018. No one has ever won a DEL title without losing a game.
“I hope this is good exposure for our program at Shadow. I don’t think tennis is a very known sport at our school and bringing this attention to it hopefully encourages people to join up,” Pimentel said. “I love being on the team and meeting new girls every year, it’s a fun way to stay involved at school.”
There was a lot of familiarity in the doubles final and not just because all four participants were Aztecs, but because they were all seniors. Park and Lopez are veterans, too, and this wasn’t their first DEL individual final. They also played for the title in 2021.
But in this one, the Rizvanbegovics simply made fewer unforced errors. Part of that is knowing what the other is thinking on the court without having to verbalize it.
“Yeah, we have cousin telepathy,” Leyla said. “We talk with our brains.”
Leyla agreed that it was fun for the duo to reunite for a shot at a second consecutive title. They even wore the same outfits as they did last year.
“I’m extremely happy I got to do it with my cousin, but knowing this is our last DEL match is kind of bittersweet,” Leyla said. “It’s kind of an amazing way to end our senior season, winning back-to-back.”
All the finalists will advance to the CIF-SS individual tournament.
Third-place honors in singles went to La Quinta’s Juliana Guerrero, who beat Palm Desert’s Sydney Presser 6-3, 7-5. In doubles, the third-place contest was an all-Xavier Prep matchup with the team of Daisy Armstrong and Caroline Marcel topping Hailey Goldstein and Trinity Miller.
The team tennis playoff pairings will be announced Monday morning.
Shad Powers is a columnist for The Desert Sun. Reach him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Shadow Hills tennis star wins DEL title without losing a game