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Corona del Mar boys’ tennis storms past Calabasas into CIF final

CdM's Jack Cross celebrates a point during the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs.
Corona del Mar’s Jack Cross celebrates a point against a Calabasas player during the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Niels Hoffmann and Jack Cross were born on the same day at Hoag Hospital.

Jan. 18, 2006 was surely a special day in both households. The two teenagers have grown up in Newport Beach as good friends, and both are currently sophomores on the Corona del Mar High tennis team.

On a team with several seniors, they have their own unique brand of leadership. They communicate in some kind of interesting language, yelling primal screams back and forth with each other after winning key points.

“I think it gives the team some confidence,” Cross said. “It impacts the team in a positive way.”

Thursday’s victory was certainly something to shout about.

CdM stepped up across the board at its home courts. The result was a surprisingly lopsided 13-5 win for the No. 2-seeded Sea Kings over No. 3 Calabasas in the CIF Southern Section Open Division semifinals.

Corona del Mar (21-2) will play top-seeded University (25-0) in the Open Division final on Friday at 11 a.m. at the Claremont Club.

CdM coach Jamie Gresh was ecstatic after the Surf League champion Sea Kings advanced to a CIF Southern Section final for the first time since 2013 — his first year as head coach.

“This is my 10th year doing this, and I told the guys, this is the best I’ve seen our guys play in a clutch situation,” Gresh said. “I thought we played phenomenal on all six courts. Doubles was awesome.”

Cross and Hoffmann both swept in singles, a tough task against a solid Calabasas lineup. But the doubles indeed also stepped up against the Coyotes (18-1), who CdM had beaten in a close third-place match of the CdM All-American Tournament on March 26.

In the first round, it was seniors Max Krykunenko and Logan Friedman rallying for a 7-6 (7-4) win at No. 2 doubles against Calabasas’ Andrew Sacks and Mark Rusak. Krykunenko and Friedman were down 4-2 in the tiebreaker, but won five straight points as the Sea Kings took a 4-2 sets lead.

Corona del Mar's Niels Hoffmann celebrates a point during a match against a Calabasas player.
Corona del Mar’s Niels Hoffmann celebrates a point during a match against a Calabasas player in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

In the second round, CdM won two more close doubles sets for a 9-3 edge. First sophomores Jack Knox and Jonathan Hinkel edged Sacks and Rusak, 7-5. Then, senior Kevin Joynt and freshman Ansel Lee beat Calabasas’ No. 3 team of Cameron Tamaddon and Griffin Marcus by the same score.

“At that point, it was 7-3,” Gresh said. “If it goes 7-5, that’s a totally different match. But going 9-3 felt amazing. Kevin and Ansel winning third doubles was huge.”

The teams of Cross and Krykunenko, as well as Knox and Hinkel, both ended up sweeping in doubles.

Corona del Mar knows it will be an underdog against its former league rival University in the final. The Sea Kings lost to the Trojans 13-5 in their season opener on Feb. 16, though that was nearly three months ago.

“I think we’re the underdogs,” Krykunenko said. “Right now they’re the favorites to win, so to perhaps have a chance of winning is a great opportunity. We’ll put everything on that court.”

Corona del Mar's doubles team of Logan Friedman, left, and Max Krykunenko play against a Calabasas team.
Corona del Mar’s doubles team of Logan Friedman, left, and Max Krykunenko play against a Calabasas team during the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Cross agreed that CdM could embrace its fighting spirit. Thursday’s semifinal win could be a sign that the Sea Kings are peaking at the right time.

“Nothing’s scarier than an underdog,” Cross said. “We’ve gotten a lot better since we’ve played them last. We’ll go out there and see what happens.”

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