Justin-Siena junior Jenna Curtola is all being more unpredictable, composed and consistent than her tennis opponent.

Freshman teammate Parvathi Shanker likes to blow the ball by them in case she loses her cool.

Though they play about as differently any two players can, they ended up meeting each other for the Marin County Athletic League singles title last month.

Perhaps having two more years of experience helped, and being on a bigger mission after losing in last year’s final, but Curtola was able to hand Shanker her first loss of the season, 6-2, 6-4.

“That was probably the best match I’ve ever played,” Curtola said. “I was so upset last year when I lost because I had wanted to beat (then-Novato High senior) Jenna Dorian so bad. But she graduated and so this was my time.”

Shanker was asked if she played well against Curtola.

“Not that day,” she said. “It’s really hard for me to play against my friends because it’s hard for me to be distant with them on the tennis court. I was just thinking ‘You can’t think it’s Jenna. You have to think it’s just an opponent, someone else.’ When you play your friend you have to completely block out your emotions, which is something I’m not really good at.

“She’s got a really good serve, too, and she makes all of her serves. Every serve.”

But Jack Ring, who assists head coach Jim Reilly, said it was a treat to watch Curtola and Shanker – the Braves’ No. 1 and No. 2 players, respectively, most of the season – go at each other.

“It’s a real chess match watching the two of them play each other because they’re so different,” Ring said. “Parvathi is power, both sides, runs everything down. Jenna has 50 different shots. Parvathi tries to bull right through you, and Jenna just keeps going until she finds a weakness and then she just keeps going to it, going to it, going to it.”

The older daughter of Trey and Keri Curtola was named MCAL Player of the Year, after making the First Team the last two years.

The older daughter of Gopal and Seena Shanker made the six-player First Team, along with Tamalpais senior Natalie Durham, Branson junior Alise Pedersen, Redwood junior Sofia Perozzi, Tamalpais junior Camilla Tarpey-Schwed, and San Rafael sophomore Kava Taufa.

Shanker was not only 12-0 going into the league final, but had beaten seven of those opponents by 6-0, 6-0 scores. She had lost only 16 games, six in a 6-2, 6-4 win over Tarpey-Schwed, who had handed Curtola her only loss up to that point, 6-2, 7-6 (9-7).

“I really wanted Parvathi to win, but I also wanted to get that girl back,” Curtola said.

Shanker finished her first high school season with a 13-2 overall record, after going 1-1 in the CIF North Coast Section Division II Tournament.

The 14-year-old first picked up a racket when she was 5 and has been playing in USTA tournaments since she was 10.

“I had a coach, Adrian Mogina, who taught me and another girl and he fed us balls every day and we would have to practice the same technique over and over,” Shanker said. “When he moved to Florida, I was at a loss for coaching. I was moving from coach to coach, trying to find one, and then we decided I needed to go to Sacramento to play and now I go there Wednesdays.”

She wanted to be home schooled, but her mother, Seena, wanted her to be able to socialize with people.

“I was going to go to Napa High, but I really wanted to go to Justin-Siena because of the academics,” said Shanker, who carries a 4.2 GPA.

She had no idea she would go so long without a loss this season.

“I didn’t really know a lot about high school tennis or how the other teams (in the MCAL) were. I actually thought we were in Napa’s league before I came to this school, and I didn’t know anybody in Marin,” she said. “I felt a little overconfident, telling myself ‘I just beat another person 6-0, 6-0.’ But I knew most of these kids hadn’t been playing as long as I have, only three or four years. I didn’t really think about it. I just played the points.”

Curtola was most nervous in her semifinal against Pederson.

“I’d played her in USTA tournaments since I was 9 or 10 and she was always one of my closest matches,” Curtola said. “I played her like four times and we always went back and forth. The last time I played her was a few years ago and she beat me really bad, so I was really nervous going into this match. I guess my nervousness carried me through. I was so happy.”

Her year-long hunger for that elusive league title helped her focus against Parvathi in the final.

“It was funny because we drove there (to Marin County) together and were talking about it like ‘OK, we both want to win’ and thinking, oh we have to play each other.’ For two people from the same school to get to the finals of MCAL is pretty amazing. Now I guess we’re rivals,” Curtola said with a laugh.

Curtola went 1-1 in the NCS Division I Tournament and finished 16-2 overall.

Parvathi had defeated Curtola in a challenge match at practice in early October, taking over the No. 1 spot.

“But then all the fires happened and our matches got canceled, so she got to play only one match at No. 1,” Curtola said.

Both players idolize Roger Federer for his composure, class, personality and success. Parvathi said she also likes Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

“He’s very composed when he has 500-pound guys running after him,” he said. “I like that composure, because I don’t really have that.”

Curtola has been coached for 10 years by Phil Cello, who runs his Cello International Tennis Academy at the Solano Community College courts.

“He’s just been around the game forever,” she said. “He’s coached pros and he knows the game so well that you can give him any concern, like trouble with my serve, and he’ll have the correct advice.

“His academy is six days a week, two hours every day, then two of the days it’s three hours because you have a private lesson with him before or after. I go there four or five days a week between high school seasons.”

She said Cello is hosting a tournament at the Solano courts this weekend.

“I think there are eight championship tournaments a year and four excellences, one per quarter,” she said of the USTA circuit. “You have to qualify for them, so that’s always the goal, to play in enough open tournaments to get your ranking high enough to qualify for them.”

Curtola played basketball as a freshman, but now plays tennis year-round and doesn’t get burned out.

“I do a lot of other things, like leadership and theater, to have balance,” said the 4.7 GPA student. “Last year after the season, I got really burned out on tennis and stopped for a few months, just because I’d been playing for nine years straight. But after I took that break, I realized tennis is what I really want to do. I kinda of renewed my love for the sport. I’ve learned that I can’t just straight play tennis all the time. I need to mix in some other things.”

While Curtola loves to write, Parvathi enjoys her physics class the most. She said tennis is pretty much her only extracurricular activity.

“I just love playing tennis, and making friends when I play,” she said. “I see them at tournaments and I have a lot of friends at the place in Sacramento. I’m a competitive person. You have to keep improving, otherwise you’ll fall behind.”


Sports Reporter

Andy Wilcox is a sportswriter-photographer for the Napa Valley Register. He's had similar roles in Walnut Creek, Grass Valley, Auburn, Tracy and Patterson. He grew up in Ohio. His wife, Laura, is a pastry chef. He also enjoys playing guitar and piano.