Boys' Tennis: Newport Harbor's Stalder advances

Reese Stalder waited, waited and then waited some more Thursday morning at Corona del Mar High.

Stalder, who had a first-round bye, checked in at the CIF Southern Section Individuals boys' tennis regional at 10 a.m. The Newport Harbor High junior did not get on the court until just before noon.

"I got a little cold," Stalder said. "I had to stretch again and stuff. It happens at junior tournaments sometimes, so you've got to be ready."

Stalder proved he was ready once he got on the court, making quick work of two opponents to advance. He blanked Jason Medina of Katella, 6-0, 6-0, before getting past Anderson Ju of Cerritos, 6-2, 6-0.

Stalder now advances to either Thursday's CIF Individuals round of 32 at Whittier Narrows Tennis Center, or directly to the round of 16 on June 6 at Seal Beach Tennis Center. Based on Stalder's No. 9 ranking in the Southern California boys' 18s, the latter scenario appears more likely, but he'll know for sure on Tuesday.

Stalder was very nearly joined by CdM sophomore Bjorn Hoffmann, who also had a first-round bye and edged Scott Paz of Trabuco Hills, 7-5, 7-5, in the second round. But USC-bound Servite senior Tanner Smith edged Hoffmann in a third-round match, 3-6, 6-3 and 14-12 in a 10-point super-tiebreaker.

The arrow continues trending upward for Stalder, the Sunset League singles runner-up who won twice last weekend at an open national tournament at Stanford University. He has pushed aside an abdominal strain aggravated earlier in the season.

He easily got past Medina, who was suffering from cramping. Against Ju, the Suburban League champion, Stalder led just 3-2 in the first set before closing out the match by winning nine straight games.

"I knew it was going to be tough, but I thought I played well," Stalder said. "I took advantage of my opportunities today. I started returning better [against Ju]. I was missing way too many second-serve returns, giving him free points, then I kind of got a beat on it. I stopped missing, and everything else just got rolling a bit."

Stalder's serve has gotten bigger, which has benefited his overall game, said CdM Coach Jamie Gresh, who also is Stalder's private coach.

"I thought Reese played really well," Gresh said. "Reese is playing his best when he's super-relaxed and fluid, sticking to the game plan of attacking and not trying to go for too much off the baseline. He's doing a better job of recognizing when to attack and when to just be solid back there."

Gresh also thought that his CdM player, Hoffmann, played well. Hoffmann, who is ranked No. 3 in the Southern California 16s and was the Pacific Coast League singles runner-up, did not necessarily agree after the tough loss against Smith.

It was close, like it was when the Sea Kings and Friars met in the opening round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. In that match, Hoffmann edged Smith in a tiebreaker.

Thursday's super-tiebreaker was extremely tight. Smith, who is bound for USC and is the son of Trojans men's tennis coach Peter Smith, took a 9-5 lead to earn four match points. But Hoffmann saved all of those, and another match point at 9-10 when a Smith backhand went long.

Hoffmann also had two match points, at 11-10 and 12-11 in the tiebreaker, but could not convert. Finally Tanner Smith won the match on a hard serve that Hoffmann could not return.

Hoffmann, who played at No. 1 singles all year for the Division 1 quarterfinalist Sea Kings, said he has been in a funk lately.

"I don't feel like I've been really playing my game for a couple of months now," Hoffmann said. "Even if I would have won, I still would have said that I'm not happy with the way I'm playing. It's tough. I've just got to go back to the drawing board, I guess, and rework a couple of things.

"I'd say it's more physical than mental. I mean, it's got to be both, right? I've been getting down on myself a little bit too, so I'd say it's a little of both. I can't really remember the last time I played a really solid match. It's just not astounding [play] for me, just very average. I don't know."

Gresh said that his player's comments were a bit of a knee-jerk reaction after a tough loss. Hoffmann also played at the Stanford tournament in the 16s, winning three matches and advancing to the consolation semifinals.

"He's improving," Gresh said. "His national ranking has moved up, his sectional ranking has moved up. Everything's moved up ... I know Bjorn's disappointed, but it's just one of those matches that comes down to one or two points.

"His best national open was just this last weekend. He hadn't won three matches at a national open [tournament] so far. It's interesting what a 16-year-old [player] will tell you and a 34-year-old [coach] will tell you."

Other singles players to advance from the CdM regional included University's Drew Dawson and Chase Mascorini of Dana Hillls. Doubles teams from Northwood, University, San Clemente and Fountain Valley also advanced.

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