Strength in Numbers
The Newport Beach Corona del Mar High girls’ tennis team isn’t exactly a galaxy of stars.
But around a tennis court, Anne Yelsey, Brittany Reitz, Brittany Holland, Taylynn Snyder, Leslie Damion and the rest could qualify as a constellation.
In age-group rankings by the U.S. Tennis Assn., Corona del Mar has six players among the top 100 in Southern California and four among the top 140 in the nation.
The Sea Kings (23-1) are the deepest, most tournament-toughened team in the Southern Section.
“I think our team is special,” said Reitz, a senior ranked No. 59 nationally in the girls’ 18s division. “I’ve loved being part of the team. It’s not something that you get a lot of in junior tennis.”
Reitz won the section’s singles title last year and is 24-0 in sets in limited matches this season, but she is not generally considered the best player on her team.
Yelsey, a junior ranked No. 10 nationally in the girls’ 16s and No. 35 in 18s, won national hard-court and clay-court doubles titles with Beverly Hills’ Riza Zalameda last summer. She has played No. 1 singles most of the last two seasons and is 41-1 this year.
Holland, a sophomore with a 48-3 record, usually is relegated to No. 3 singles despite her No. 137 national ranking in the girls’ 16s.
“Just having such a good team is more rewarding than if I was the No. 1 player at another school,” Holland said.
Snyder, a junior, is No. 131 in the girls’ 16s national standings. She plays singles when Yelsey or Reitz don’t play and typically teams with Damion at No. 1 doubles. Damion, a senior, is No. 96 in Southern California in girls’ 18s.
“I wouldn’t say we’re your typical tennis team,” third-year Coach Andy Stewart said.
“They don’t all play every match. But we’re five strong, and my top four are not just good players, they’re great players.”
Most teams seldom have Corona del Mar’s depth.
“They’re an all-star team,” said Villa Park sophomore Lindsey Nelson, No. 1 in Southern California in the USTA standings and the only player to defeat Yelsey this season. “There’s so many good players, they can be intimidating.”
Most junior-circuit stars have their own coaches and practice schedules, and many don’t join high school teams for lack of competition or because school coaches are unwilling to give them beneficial treatment.
Stewart, a 30-year-old teaching pro who graduated from Huntington Beach and played at Fresno State, helps run the Junior Development Program at Costa Mesa Tennis Center.
He relates to his players and makes things easy for them.
“I know Anne, when she’s not there, she’s still hitting,” Stewart said. “It’s not like they’re sneaking off to the beach. If Brittany Reitz goes and works out with her coach, she’s working hard, and I don’t want to disrupt what she’s been doing for 10, maybe 15 years.”
Stewart’s approach is appreciated.
“I don’t understand coaches that demand that you go to practice,” Yelsey said. “If they’re good, they should do everything they can to keep the players on the team. If Andy said, ‘You’ve got to come, it’s a mandatory practice,’ we’d come. But he knows we’re all working on our games.”
Although Reitz, Damion and doubles players Brittany Minna, Katie Tenerelli and Sara Bryan will graduate in June, the Sea Kings appear stocked for the future with sophomores Holland, Amanda Rubenstein and Juliette Mutzke, and freshman Jamie Steele.
Getting playing time is difficult for the younger players, who compete for lower spots in the lineup in weekly challenge matches.
“I hate having 12 good players for nine spots,” Stewart said. “But’s it’s a great problem. My thing is, I always want to put my best team out there.”
Opponents try to do the same, although usually without success.
The Sea Kings have been atop the Division IV rankings all season. The only blemish on their record was a 5-4 loss to defending Division I champion Palos Verdes Peninsula last month in the final round of the National High School All-American tournament, under a collegiate format instead of the usual round-robin system, and with Reitz away on a recruiting trip.
Corona del Mar beat Peninsula, 12-6, in a round-robin match, has played every team in The Times’ Top 10, except Calabasas and Palm Desert, and has defeated most opponents handily. The Sea Kings beat No. 8 Newport Beach Newport Harbor, 10-8, in their closest match, but that victory was accomplished without Reitz, and Yelsey.
Corona del Mar’s combined margin of victory in 20 round-robin matches is 298-54.
The top-seeded Sea Kings are expected to repeat as Division IV champions and advanced to today’s quarterfinals with playoff victories over Torrance Bishop Montgomery and Garden Grove Bolsa Grande.
“I think expectations of us were right on target,” Yelsey said. “As far as I’m concerned, I have no doubt we can be No. 1. This is our year.”