Madison Dao and Julia Yuen are in their fourth and final year as a doubles team for the Sage Hill School girls’ tennis program.
The seniors spent their freshman and sophomore years on the junior varsity team, before moving up to varsity as juniors. This year, they have ascended further, to the No. 1 doubles spot.
“We’re friends not just in tennis, but outside,” said Dao, a co-captain along with senior singles players Karina Grover and Miya Stauss. “It really helps to have this close friendship. I think bonding and having a relationship with your partner is super-crucial. Having it with Julia is the best, because we get to laugh about everything, even our mistakes.”
The familiarity is definitely there for Dao and Yuen. After Wednesday’s match against San Joaquin League rival St. Margaret’s, Sage Hill is also in a familiar spot.
The Lightning won 12-6 at Saddleback College, moving into outright first place in the league. Sage Hill (4-5, 3-0 in league) is a half-match ahead of Claremont Webb (2-0 in league).
Sage Hill appears to be a favorite to win its fifth straight league title, and has won 43 straight league matches overall since a 10-8 loss to St. Margaret’s on Oct. 21, 2014.
“It’s always a little bit of challenge,” Yuen said. “We can’t ever let our guard down, but I think working through it has been really fun. Everybody fought really hard today, so we’re really proud.”
Sage Hill swept against St. Margaret’s (4-2, 2-1) in doubles. Dao and Yuen swept easily, 6-0, 6-1, 6-0, while senior Kimi Reddy and junior Lauren Avenatti earned 7-5, 6-1, 6-4 wins. The No. 3 pairing of junior Michele Zheng and sophomore Courtney Davis swept 6-2, 7-5, 6-0.
Reddy and Avenatti beat St. Margaret’s No. 2 team of Grace Nolet and Julia Schulze 7-5 in the first round, helping Sage Hill earn a 4-2 sets advantage. In the second round, it was Zheng and Davis who won 7-5 over the Tartans’ No. 1 pairing of Bella Karahalios and Alysse Pusey, as the Lightning took a 7-5 sets lead as well.
“It feels great,” Lightning coach Whit Kenerson said. “I think we’re on the right track. We played a lot of tough teams in the beginning and the girls took their lumps, but now I think in league we’ll be doing fine. Our record doesn’t look very good, but once league starts we start getting the wins. I think we’ve settled our doubles combinations pretty well, and our singles [players] are getting more confident because they’ve played some good players so far.”
Grover, Stauss and freshman Kana Byrd each won once in singles, topping St. Margaret’s No. 3 player Annabel Thiel. The Lightning were able to overcome easy singles sweeps by the Tartans’ top two players, Seychelle Balog and Audrey Harrington.
“There was a lot of pressure to win against [Thiel],” said Stauss, a four-year varsity player. “I think the most important thing about today was that our mental game needed to be the strongest. Physically, we’ve been training a lot [in the] weight room [and on the] track. It was all a mental game for us. You’ve got to go in thinking you’re going to win and be confident, or else you’ve already lost the match. I think even though we didn’t win [many singles sets] today, we all stayed strong mentally. That was a win for us.”
Sage Hill returns to action with a home league match against Tarbut V’Torah on Tuesday. The Lightning play St. Margaret’s again in league play at home on Oct. 8.
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