LAGUNA NIGUEL — It was, it seemed, odd to see so much laughter and so few tears coming from the Corona del Mar High girls’ tennis team’s post-match huddle.
The reverse is typically the case when a team laden with 13 seniors sees its season — thus, the prep careers of the impending graduates — terminated by a postseason loss.
Yet, after the No. 4-seeded Sea Kings fell to top-seeded Dana Hills, 11-7, in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs Thursday at the Laguna Niguel Tennis Club, smiles trumped sorrow for the vanquished visitors.
These Sea Kings (21-2) had clearly also mastered the art of losing gracefully, despite having such little practice.
“I think those seniors have lost six times in 86 matches the last four years,” said CdM Coach Brian Ricker.
The semifinal setback ended a run of three straight CIF Division I title-match appearances for the Sea Kings, who were defeated by Dana Hills (20-0) in the last two finals.
CdM won the crown in 2006.
“Dana is a great team,” Ricker said. “It has such good singles players and its doubles are well-coached.”
CdM’s senior tandem of Kelli Feeley and Azadeh Nazemi swept at No. 1 doubles, closing out a 38-set winning streak that began after they dropped the first set of the season to Campbell Hall.
Senior Melissa Matsuoka won two sets at No. 1 singles, while CdM’s other two doubles teams captured one set each.
“I guess it’s a compliment to our doubles that, when it seems like we were getting killed in doubles, we still won five of the nine sets,” said Ricker, who also dispensed praise for his departing seniors.
“It’s a great group of seniors,” Ricker said. “They are all wonderful girls and they try hard and their work ethic is outstanding. The reality is, most of those girls could start for 98% of the teams in Orange County. But, at CdM, they’re turned into cheerleaders. After the match, I was saying goodbye to the seniors from [Matsuoka] to [No. 2 singles standout Hailey Hogan, who along with Matsuoka won the Pacific Coast League doubles title and will continue in the section individual tournament that begins today], to the girls who don’t play that much. And one of the juniors, Jessica Beyer, started crying. I said ‘You’re not even a senior, what are you doing?’ So that was kind of funny.”
Ricker’s comment to Beyer caused an eruption of laughter from the CdM players, most of whom appeared upbeat while talking with one another outside the club entrance as they waited the bus to transport them home.
“We all tried our best,” Feeley said. “We lost the last two years [to Dana Hills], but we came in with a fresh new start. I think our team united this year and we were all one. That made a huge difference in our play. Today, the whole team was cheering for each other and being positive. That’s why we’re all OK with the outcome.”
Feeley said she was unaware of the 80-6 record posted by the Sea Kings the last four seasons.
“Oh, wow,” she said. “That’s amazing.”
CdM’s 21-match winning streak might have continued, but for a couple hard-fought losses in the first two rounds.
“In the first round, we had two set points in the No. 2 doubles match and we lost that,” Ricker said. “And in the second round, we had two set points in the No. 2 singles match that would have [evened the match], 6-6. Those two sets were the turning point right there.”
In addition to Feeley-Nazemi, Ricker praised Matsuoka, who bounced back from a 6-0 loss to the Dolphin’s No. 1 player, junior Joanna Smith, to top standout freshman Alyssa Smith (Joanna’s sister), 7-5.
Dana Hills will go for a third straight Division I title against No. 2-seeded Campbell Hall Monday at the Claremont Club.