Corona del Mar High girls’ tennis coach Jamie Gresh called this year’s team the nicest and sweetest he’s coached, in terms of personalities.
His point was illustrated when the Sea Kings gave Gresh an ice water bath.
Juniors Reece Kenerson and Alden Mulroy dumped a water cooler on him after top-seeded CdM won the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title Friday, defeating Los Angeles Marlborough 11-7 in the final at the Claremont Club.
Gresh grinned and remarked how cold the water was. Mulroy immediately apologized.
“I’m sorry,” she said with a touch of concern. “We’re sorry.”
Luckily for Gresh, the Sea Kings showed a killer instinct on the court when the stakes were highest.
CdM (18-5) won eight doubles sets in winning its second Division 1 title in three years. It is the 10th section championship for the program.
Kenerson and sophomore Jane Paulsen swept at No. 1 doubles, as did senior Ashley Thomas and freshman Cate Montgomery at No. 2 doubles. Mulroy and fellow junior Tori Varela won twice at No. 3 doubles, including the clinching 10th set.
Their CdM teammates rushed the court after Varela and Mulroy completed a 6-3 win over Natalie Kim and Megan Wong of Marlborough on Mulroy’s backhand volley.
“I was so happy,” Varela said. “I just jumped up and started screaming. We felt really nervous, because we had lost another game when it was 5-2. We could have closed it out, so it made it a little bit more tense. But when we finally did finish it, it was pretty cool.”
Junior Hannah Jervis won twice in singles for Surf League champion CdM, which led 4-2 after the first round and 7-5 after two rounds. After clinching the match, the Sea Kings had to wait for methodical sophomore teammate Kristina Veskovic to finish the final set on the court against Marlborough No. 3 singles player Sidney Bae.
“It wouldn’t be a real match if Kristina wasn’t the last one to finish,” Mulroy joked.
Gresh decided not to tell Veskovic that the Sea Kings had already clinched the match. She still came through for her first victory of the day, 6-3, giving CdM its 11th set.
Unlike the Division 1 title team from two years ago, this year’s CdM squad didn’t have a Danielle Willson, now playing at USC, or an Annika Bassey (Harvard) or Kristina Evloeva (UC Davis). None of the three carryovers — Thomas, Mulroy and Kenerson — were even starters on that 2017 team.
What the Sea Kings did have was depth. Junior Arianna Stavropoulos swept 6-0, 6-1, 6-0 at No. 1 singles for Marlborough (17-3), and it was CdM’s third straight match in which the opponent’s top player swept. But the Sea Kings’ depth won out.
“That’s what it takes to win a title,” Gresh said. “We improved as a team throughout the season, but I think it was our overall depth, having a bunch of girls that were at a very similar level. They could play singles or doubles, and I kind of mixed it up throughout the year. I think that prepared us for these pressure moments. It’s a good group of girls and I kind of knew they would handle the pressure well, and they did. Half of winning a CIF title is handling the pressure well when you get to Claremont, on a neutral site, the final match of the year.”
With just four seniors this year, the Sea Kings should be strong again in 2020. Thomas got a chance to end her high school career as a two-time CIF champion.
“Two years ago we had a sense of security because we had Danielle and Annika,” Thomas said. “Those were almost like for-sure wins for us. I’m almost happier this time around, not just because I played, but because we had to work extremely hard.”
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