Last weekend, the Corona del Mar High girls’ tennis team went on a 48-hour team trip to Palm Desert.
The Sea Kings had a very bonded team this season. Even weeks after it ended, the players wanted to spend time together.
All 14 of the varsity players stayed at a house over the weekend, and one of the activities was making gingerbread houses. But a problem arose, senior captain Danielle Willson said.
“It was quite a problem,” Willson said. “We didn’t know we had to make the frosting. We had the powder, but we had to make the frosting. It turned out OK.”
As sweet as that frosting was, the season the Sea Kings had might have been even sweeter. They went 26-0 and won Pacific Coast League, CIF Southern Section Division 1 and CIF USTA Southern California Regional titles.
The player always leading the way was Willson, bound for USC, who capped off her individual season by becoming just the third CdM girls’ tennis player to win the CIF Southern Section Individuals singles title.
For her efforts on and off the court, Willson is the Daily Pilot Girls’ Tennis Dream Team Player of the Year for the second straight season.
Willson finished the season 59-4 in singles, yet her leadership went beyond the numbers. The Sea Kings had a mish-mash of talent, with three high-profile transfers in Annika Bassey, Paulina Loredo and Kristina Evloeva. Yet, she made sure everyone felt welcome, CdM coach Jamie Gresh said.
“This year, I feel our senior leadership was so good, and I think she was the driving force behind that in the sense of how she treats her teammates and how she respects everyone,” Gresh said. “She’s very humble, and I think that made a big difference in the team success. Danielle has that intangible of being a good leader, and she demonstrates that on [the] court with her play, but she’s also so supportive of the doubles girls or the other girls on the team. Respect is earned because respect is given, and I think Danielle does a fantastic job of that.”
Willson would often train at Advantage Tennis Academy in Irvine during the week. But fellow senior captain Brooke Kenerson said that wasn’t always the case.
“Before big matches, she would always make sure she was at our practices and pumping up the team,” Kenerson said. “She really took it upon herself to lead the team, just by talking to us individually and as a group. She put a lot of effort into making our team get along and made sure we shared the same goals for the season.”
Willson reveled in the team success, and her run to the Individuals singles title as the No. 4 seed was nearly perfect as well. She did not drop a set in her six matches.
Gresh said he believed before the tournament that Willson was playing great tennis, and she validated that.
For her, it was the perfect ending to a perfect season.
“I feel like I’ve reached my goals, for sure,” she said. “It’s really cool to see the improvement. Winning CIF and regionals, getting Player of the Year, it’s something that I’m going to remember forever. I just think I need to keep moving in the right direction and train harder, and I’ll be ready for next year at USC.”
COACH OF THE YEAR
Corona del Mar
Gresh’s third season as head coach of the CdM girls ending up being a coronation as the Sea Kings earned the title of best team in Southern California. With much individual talent on the team, Gresh, who played college tennis at Penn State, still preached teamwork and camaraderie above all else. That paid off in tight wins against Arcadia in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinals and the CIF USTA Southern California Regional title match. Gresh led CdM to a perfect 26-0 record and its first Division 1 title since 2006 and ninth section championship overall, beating Pacific Coast League rival University in the final. The Sea Kings also won their first regional title in program history before Gresh coached senior captain Danielle Willson to the CIF Southern Section Individuals singles title.
Corona del Mar | Sr.
Bassey was one of three heralded transfers on the Sea Kings roster this season, and she performed all season after moving to Newport Beach from Ojai. The team captain finished with a 45-8 singles record for CdM and won some impressive matches, including two victories over Palos Verdes Peninsula’s Ryan Peus in a nonleague match and in the CIF USTA Southern California Regional semifinals. Bassey was a Pacific Coast League doubles finalist with junior Kristina Evloeva. Bassey and Evloeva advanced to the CIF Southern Section Individuals doubles quarterfinals before losing a tough three-set match to the No. 3-seeded team from Valencia of Valencia.
Newport Harbor | Sr.
After being home-schooled as a sophomore and ineligible as a junior, Knickerbocker played for the Sailors for the first time in three years. And she was an anchor at the No. 1 singles position, helping the Sailors capture the outright Sunset League title. Knickerbocker finished the season with a 59-4 record in singles and earned the league singles championship. She advanced to the third round at the CIF Southern Section Individuals singles tournament.
Corona del Mar | Jr.
Evloeva, a Newport Coast resident who was previously home-schooled, made the last-second decision to enroll at CdM for her junior year. She can be glad that she did, after helping the Sea Kings achieve their perfect season. Evloeva finished the season 40-9 in singles, with maybe her most impressive win a three-set victory over Palos Verdes Peninsula blue-chip freshman Kimmi Hance in the CIF USTA Southern California Regional semifinals. Evloeva then teamed with Annika Bassey and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Individuals doubles quarterfinals.
Paulina Loredo and Shaya Northrup
Corona del Mar | Sr. and Jr.
Loredo transferred to CdM over the summer from Texas, while Northrup was a junior in her third year as a varsity starter. With Loredo’s steady net play and Northrup’s ground strokes, they made their pairing work in a big way, earning the No. 1 doubles position for CdM early in the season and finishing with a 39-5 doubles record together, including a sweep of rival University in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title match. Loredo and Northrup won a pair of tough matches against CdM teammates to win the Pacific Coast League doubles championship, then advanced to the CIF Southern Section Individuals doubles quarterfinals before losing to defending champions Michelle Deng and Lauren Ko of Arcadia, who went on to repeat as champions.
Roxy MacKenzie and Bella McKinney
Corona del Mar | Juniors
MacKenzie was versatile for CdM as a singles or doubles player, but she teamed with McKinney for roughly half of the season. They excelled at the Sea Kings’ No. 2 doubles spot, compiling a 20-5 record. MacKenzie and McKinney, both three-year varsity players, advanced to the semifinals of the Pacific Coast League tournament before losing a tough three-set match to their teammates Northrup and Loredo, the eventual champions. McKinney would go on to win the clinching match with Emily Freyman at No. 3 doubles in CdM’s 4-3 win over Arcadia in the CIF USTA Southern California Regional title match.
Nicole Condas and Michelle Hung
Sage Hill | Sr. and Jr.
Condas and Hung played together sparingly during the regular season, though they helped the Lightning win a third straight Academy League title. During the postseason, though, they teamed together for the second straight year, with the goal of making it past the third round of the CIF Southern Section Individuals tournament. They succeeded, advancing to the round of 32 before losing to a team from Mira Costa. Condas, a team captain, and Hung finished with an 18-4 overall record.
Player, School, Year
Ella Pachl, Laguna Beach, So.
Zoe Coggins, Edison, So.
Annie Mitchell, Estancia, Sr.
Players, School, Years
Hanh Pham and Vikki Nguyen, Fountain Valley, Seniors
Brooke Kenerson and Lauren Friedman, Corona del Mar, Sr. and Fr.