IRVINE — It must be a nice feeling, playing against some of the top talent in Southern California and still coming out on top year after year.
The University High boys' tennis team definitely has its cake and eats it too.
The Trojans did actually eat cake after Tuesday's home match, a 14-4 Pacific Coast League win over rival Corona del Mar in a first-place showdown. They had good reason to do so.
University, the four-time defending CIF Southern Section Division 1 champion, celebrated its 100th straight dual match win. The Trojans have not lost a dual match since falling to Thousand Oaks in the 2009 Division 1 title match.
Coach John Kessler said the fact that the winning streak has hit triple digits while playing in the Pacific Coast League is impressive. The last loss to an Orange County team was to CdM, all the way back in 2006.
"We're doing that in probably the toughest league in the country, with Northwood and CdM and other teams that are amazing," Kessler said. "Plus, it's Division 1. That's saying a lot. This is not some random league and some random division. We're playing against the top teams in the nation."
The Trojans (10-0, 4-0 in league), who are again the top-ranked team in Division 1, were supposed to be down this year. They lost all three starting singles players from last year to graduation. Gage Brymer is now playing at UCLA, Stefan Menichella at Pepperdine and Tyler Lu at Yale. But this year's team, led by captains Drew Dawson, Eric Tseng, Arash Hafezi and Arseni Yalouskikh, has been nearly as impressive.
"This is the best chemistry that I've had on a team in a really long time," Kessler said. "The captains have done a great job. We heard the talk from coaches and players, 'Uni's down, here's our shot.' I can't believe how hard they've worked and how they've rallied around [each other]. There's no one that leaves during a match, everyone's together. They've had at least seven or eight dinners together so far already. It's the best chemistry we've ever had, and they are absolutely motivated to prove to people that we're more than those three guys."
The match got away from CdM (9-2, 3-1) early. University grabbed a 6-0 advantage after the first round after taking two close doubles sets. Tseng and Tommy Wang topped CdM's Samee Aboubakare and Tyler Gaede, 7-5. Minutes later, Yalouskikh and Arid Safi got past CdM's Carson Williams and Jonny Rhone by the same score.
The Trojans went on to lead 11-1 after two rounds. Only CdM junior Ryan Andrews, who outlasted Riku Hashiyada, 7-5, in a singles set, was able to get a win.
CdM Coach Jamie Gresh knew the Trojans, who have beaten the Sea Kings in the Division 1 title match each of the last two years, were going to be tough.
"They're just a level ahead of us right now," Gresh said. "They have a little more experience, for sure, and their younger guys are looking more comfortable on the doubles court ... You have to stay with them early. Going down 6-0, the writing's on the wall."
CdM did earn three set wins in the third round, two of them against substitutes. Andrews won again, 7-5, and No. 1 singles player Bjorn Hoffmann picked up his first set of the day over Hashiyada, 6-2. Then, in the last set on court, sophomores Oliver Kim and Ari Coskinas pulled out a 7-5 victory.
Hafezi swept all three sets for University, as did the No. 3 doubles team of Konrad Kozlowski and Josh Piatos.
Corona del Mar has played without senior captain Josh Kliger since hosting the National All-American Tournament on March 14-15. Gresh said that Kliger, who normally plays at No. 1 doubles with Williams, has a bone chip in his left knee.
Gresh said he hopes that Kliger can resume light hitting next week. The goal is to have him ready for the Ojai Tennis Tournament that begins April 24. Kliger and Williams would be among the favorites to win the CIF Doubles division, where they lost in the quarterfinals last year.