Janie Ellis was just hitting her stride.
The Clovis West High freshman girls tennis standout had run through the first round of Tri-River Athletic Conference play unbeaten, toppling the likes of defending Central Section singles champion Milah Ryland of Clovis East and Buchanan’s Sravya Gudipudi.
Then she stepped on a ball in practice.
It’s not an uncommon occurrence for a tennis player, but it took an unfortunate turn for Ellis when she learned what she initially thought was a sprain, and tried to play through, was a fracture.
It cost her the rest of the 2014 season – she was in a boot for eight weeks – and a shot at becoming only the fourth freshman, according to historian Bob Barnett, to win a section singles title.
“It was an awful experience,” Ellis said. “But in some ways, it was good because it made me appreciate my health.”
Healthy and focused, Ellis roared back as a sophomore this season, going 23-2 in singles en route to the section individual championship.
She is The Bee’s Girls Tennis Player of the Year.
Entering the postseason, Ellis was among six top contenders for the singles title along with Gudipudi, Stockdale’s Arianna Tilbury, Clovis North’s Elizabeth Schulz, Garces’ Anastasia Drulias and defending champion Chelsey Ruiz of Bullard.
“It was going to be a tossup, but Janie is very strong mentally,” Clovis West coach Dan Gilbert said. “We had confidence in her that she would come through.”
Ellis had beaten Gudipudi and Schulz twice each during the regular season and Drulias and Ruiz once apiece.
Ellis’ only slip against section opposition came in the TRAC final, when Schulz pulled out a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 win.
“That was an eye-opener, a really upsetting loss,” Ellis said. “It made me realize I needed to work harder and practice harder.”
Ellis still was seeded No. 1 for the North Area qualifying tournament ( in which she won twice to advance) or for the section finals.
She opened the 16-girl individual championship with a 6-1, 6-0 win over Sanger’s Winter Lee, beat Bakersfield Christian’s eighth-seeded Delaney Roche 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals and avenged her loss to No. 4 Schulz with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 comeback in the semis.
Ellis beat Gudipudi in a three-set match for the third time in the season – 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 – in the final.
“It was great to win,” Ellis said. “There was a lot of pressure, but I’m so happy I overcame the pressure and pulled it out.”
Tennis is in the family blood for Ellis, who started playing at age 4. Her parents, Anne and Jim, met while playing tennis, and her brother Robbie is a member of Clovis West’s Division I champion boys team.
She trains at Stine 360 Tennis Academy and plays on the USTA junior circuit.
Gilbert, who has known Ellis since she was a youth, said she rose to the top of the section tennis scene this season because of her composure on the court – “You can never tell you have an edge on her,” he said – and knack for outwitting opponents.
“She’s a very heady player,” Gilbert said. “She knows what shot to hit at the right time. A lot of girls have long rallies from the baseline. They pound back and forth. But Janie has the ability to get girls off the court a little bit. She’s always thinking ahead, trying to get her opponent to one side to set up the next shot. It gives her a higher percentage to win the point.”
Girls Tennis All-Stars: Doubles Team of the Year Lauren Lee and Lasya Gudipudi
- School: Buchanan
- Grade: Lee is a senior, Gudipudi a sophomore
- They are qualified because: Joined forces late in the season to win the Tri-River Athletic Conference tournament title, qualify out of the North Area tournament and advance to the Central Section individual final as the top-seeded team. Lee and Gudipudi proceeded to defeat Immanuel’s Breegan Anderson/Alyssa Regier 6-0, 6-0, Wasco’s Arianna Acevedo/Serena Contreras 6-1, 6-0, and Clovis East’s Abby Broughton/Natty Villarreal 6-4, 6-2 en route to the final. They became Buchanan’s second section doubles champion in the past six years with a 6-2, 6-2 defeat of Stockdale’s sixth-seeded Emily Horrigan/Erica Paradise. They were 9-0 as a team. Lee was 17-0 in doubles overall, while Gudipudi, who placed fourth in the section with then-partner Brenna Arbuckle in 2014, was 14-0. “They worked really well together,” Bears coach Jonathan Slater said. “That gets overlooked sometimes. A lot of times, you have two kids out there playing singles together. But they worked as a double team, and that was the key to their success.” They also were successful singles players for a Buchanan team that won its fifth consecutive TRAC title and second straight section Division I crown. Lee, playing at No. 2, was 19-2, and Gudipudi, at No. 3, went 22-2.
- Perfect pairing: Lee and Gudipudi have complementary games. Lee’s strength is aggressiveness and comfort at the net. Gudipudi leans on consistent play from the baseline, where she can be a shotmaking machine. “Together they make a dominant team,” Slater said. “They don’t miss a lot together.” While the strengths differ, their competitiveness does not. “Sometimes you get a mix of one competitive person and one just out there to have fun,” Slater said. “With them, both are very competitive and want to win. When you get those types of kids together on the court, you generally have pretty good results.”
- He said it: “They were very focused in the postseason. Sometimes it’s hard and you get caught up in the team stuff, but they strongly believed they were the best team. That was important that they not only believed they could, but should win. They went in with confidence in every match.” – Slater
Girls Tennis All-Stars: Coach of the Year Jonathan Slater
- School: Buchanan
- He’s qualified because: Enjoyed about as successful of a season as a coach can have, narrowly missing a trifecta of marquee Central Section accomplishments after his Bears won the Division I title for the second straight season, his team of Lauren Lee and Lasya Gudipudi captured the individual doubles title, and Sravya Gudipudi finished second in singles. Buchanan went 22-3 without a loss to section opposition, including a 10-0 march through the Tri-River Athletic Conference. The Bears’ playoff run included sweeps of Clovis West (9-0) and Clovis North (6-0) before a 6-3 defeat of Stockdale in the section final that was clinched before the end of singles play. Buchanan’s bid to become the first Central Section team to win a CIF Southern California Regional match was denied in a 4-3 loss to Northwood-Irvine. Individually, Slater’s top doubles team of Lee and Lasya Gudipudi beat Stockdale’s Emily Horrigan and Erica Paradise 6-2, 6-2 for the title. Sravya Gudipudi fell 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 to Clovis West’s Janie Ellis in the singles final.
- Power broker: Slater has turned Buchanan into the section’s premier girls tennis program in his nine seasons as coach. The Bears have won seven TRAC and four section titles, including three of the past four. Buchanan is 178-37 since Slater, a former Sierra High and Fresno Pacific standout, took over. He has coached seven individual doubles medalists, including two champions, and two singles medalists since arriving at Buchanan in 2007. “We’ve had a really good run,” Slater said. “It gets to a point where winning becomes, I don’t want to say habit, but the expected result. And I get new girls every year who buy into that, and are willing to go above and beyond to continue the tradition of success.”
- He said it: “We had a lot of lofty goals going into the season. One goal was to win the team championship and sweep the individual doubles and singles, which to our knowledge had never been done before. And we came very, very close to that. It was a pretty special year.” – Slater
The Bee’s Girls Tennis All-Stars
- Julia August, junior, Clovis West
- Abby Broughton, senior, Clovis East
- Sravya Gudipudi, senior, Buchanan
- Gabby Gutierrez, senior, Clovis
- Winter Lee, senior, Sanger
- Neha Pondicherry, senior, Clovis North
- Anindita Rajasekaran, senior, El Diamante
- Chelsey Ruiz, senior, Bullard
- Elizabeth Schulz, junior, Clovis North
- Sienna Swain, senior, Buchanan
- Zoe Vargas, senior, Bullard
- Natty Villarreal, freshman, Clovis East
- Claire Young, freshman, Redwood