A sign at the Corona del Mar High tennis courts celebrates the 2017 girls’ tennis team, which had an undefeated season and won CIF Southern Section Division 1 and CIF State Southern California Regional titles.
A lot has changed for the Sea Kings in two years. There are now just three remaining players from that team, in senior Ashley Thomas and juniors Reece Kenerson and Alden Mulroy. None of them were starters on the 2017 team.
CdM had a stacked singles lineup that year with Danielle Willson (now at USC), Annika Bassey (Harvard) and Kristina Evloeva (UC Davis). Two years later, CdM coach Jamie Gresh stacked his doubles lineup for Thursday’s nonleague match against visiting Studio City Campbell Hall.
CdM was swept in singles and lost 11-7, its first setback of the season.
Campbell Hall (2-0), which was last year’s CIF Southern Section Open Division champion, and CdM (2-1) both lost a lot from last season. Vikings coach Steve Kuechel said his team lost six starters to graduation, including its top two singles players in Dominque Stone and Rachel Wagner.
But freshman Tsehay Driscoll, junior Devyn Marinos and freshman Katarina Vayser all had their way in singles against CdM’s lineup of sophomore Kristina Veskovic, Thomas and freshman Cate Montgomery. Campbell Hall won every set by scores of 6-0 or 6-1.
“I think we could be top four [in CIF again],” Kuechel said. “I think that’s realistic. But people get hurt, people get sick, you never know. It’s hard when you lose that many people. You hope that you can recover.”
Gresh said this was his least experienced girls’ team in five years at the helm. The Sea Kings lost to the Vikings for the third time in the last two years, including a 5-2 setback in the SoCal Regional semifinals last year.
CdM’s strategy was to come close to sweeping in doubles and try to win one or two singles sets, Gresh said. Juniors Hannah Jervis and Kenerson did sweep in doubles. The teams of Mulroy and sophomore Jane Paulsen, as well as juniors Tori Varela and Olivia Sipiora, each won two of three doubles sets.
But Campbell Hall’s No. 1 pairing of junior Devyn Hunter and sophomore Alysa Bojenkova rebounded from a 6-4 defeat against Jervis and Kenerson in the opening round, beating CdM’s other two teams by the same 6-4 score in the next two rounds.
“I thought we competed really well,” Gresh said. “The level of play was high today, and the girls are learning what it takes, and how your level of focus has to be really high when you’re playing a high-caliber team such as Campbell Hall.”
Gresh said CdM has a tough stretch ahead, including a home match against Palos Verdes on Tuesday, a match at Manhattan Beach Mira Costa on Sept. 12 and a home match against former league rival University on Sept. 17.
“It’ll be a really good test for the girls,” Gresh said. “That’s just the way the schedule works out. When we switched leagues to the [Surf] League [last year], I wanted to make sure that most of our nonleague matches, they’re very competitive and we get pushed. It’s not about wins and losses, but about competing and getting better throughout the journey of the season. You only get better when you play against better competition.”
Kenerson said she does indeed see the young Sea Kings getting better throughout the season, even if they don’t have a player like Willson, who was a two-time Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year who won the CIF Individuals singles tournament as a senior.
“This year, we don’t really have a Danielle or anything, someone who’s that good,” Kenerson said. “It definitely hurts ... but I think the team will definitely get better. It’s just hard, because we have nine new girls. We have more new people than [returners], but I think we’ll for sure get better and closer as a team.”
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