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Corona del Mar girls’ tennis gets past Murrieta Valley in CIF Division 1 quarterfinals

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Corona del Mar’s Cate Montgomery, left, high-fives Ashley Thomas following a doubles win in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs against Murrieta Valley on Monday in Newport Beach.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Ashley Thomas was a sophomore substitute on the 2017 Corona del Mar High girls’ tennis team, which had an undefeated season and captured the CIF Southern Section Division 1 and CIF Southern California Regional titles.

Two years later, Thomas sees herself as a senior starter on the No. 3 doubles line. And when the Sea Kings didn’t make the Open Division playoffs this year, she got a unique opportunity to try to win her second Division 1 title.

“That would be so cool, to be like, ‘My team won CIF twice when I was in high school,’” Thomas said. “That would be so crazy, and I’m so excited to have this opportunity again. I’m happy to be in Division 1, even if it’s not Open Division, especially because this time I’m starting. It’s way more nerve-wracking. I feel all the pressure, and I’m trying to deal with it well. [Freshman partner] Cate [Montgomery] is calm, so that helps. We work well together.”

Thomas and Montgomery played a key role in helping the Sea Kings move just two matches away from achieving that goal.

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They swept Monday afternoon for top-seeded CdM, which earned a 12-6 win over visiting Murrieta Valley in the quarterfinals.

Reece Kenerson and Jane Paulsen also swept in doubles for the Sea Kings (16-5), who have won 13 straight matches. Surf League champion CdM hosts Wave League champion Huntington Beach (19-4) in a Division 1 semifinal match Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.

The Oilers got past Troy 10-8 in another quarterfinal match Monday to earn a shot at the Sea Kings. CdM beat Huntington Beach 11-7 in a Sunset Conference crossover match on Oct. 3.

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Corona del Mar’s Kristina Veskovic returns a shot during a singles set in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs against Murrieta Valley on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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CdM led 4-2 in sets after the first round and 7-5 after the second against Southwestern League champion Murrieta Valley (21-3). Thomas and Montgomery helped the Sea Kings get there with comeback wins in the first two rounds.

They won the last three games to beat Murrieta Valley’s Aliya Andrews and Faith Lee 7-5 in the first round. In the second round, they came back from a 5-2 deficit, winning the last five games to beat Laney Pearson and Maya Eamolam by the same score.

“I feel like we have a thing for getting down early and making ourselves come back,” Montgomery said. “We’re slow starters, so that happens quite often. We were tight ... [but] we get more calm when we’re down.”

Murrieta Valley sophomore Natalie Duffy easily swept at No. 1 singles 6-1, 6-1, 6-0. But the Sea Kings still won five of the nine singles sets. Sophomore Kristina Veskovic and junior Hannah Jervis each won twice, and junior Alden Mulroy also earned a win.

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Corona del Mar’s Alden Mulroy returns a shot during a singles set in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs against Murrieta Valley on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Tori Varela and Cate Wood earned one doubles win for CdM, which finished strong. The Sea Kings won five of six sets in the final round.

They have bounced back from a nonleague schedule in which they lost five of six matches at one point.

“I feel like it put us in our place, kind of, and it made us closer as a team,” Montgomery said. “We realized that those were just tough matches, but we had to get better through the season, and we have.”

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CdM coach Jamie Gresh said the practice quality also has improved throughout the season for his squad.

“They went through that losing streak of five out of six [matches] and I think it was tough on them,” Gresh said. “It was tough on me. They’re trying their best, they’re competing well, but I think they started having better practice habits and doing little things right. All of the little details that make me happy, and how the program has always run. Regardless of the level that we have out here, the program will always run the same in terms of effort, attitude and intensity at practice. I think we’ve done a better job of competing against each other, while having fun.”

If they can get past Huntington Beach, which won the Division 3 title last year, the Sea Kings will play in the Division 1 final at 11 a.m. Friday at the Claremont Club.

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Corona del Mar’s Hannah Jervis returns a shot during a singles set in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs against Murrieta Valley on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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