Marina’s Mika Ikemori ends high school tennis career with another CIF runner-up finish
For the second straight year, Marina High senior Mika Ikemori advanced to the CIF Southern Section Individuals girls’ tennis singles title match.
That’s no small feat. Ikemori is the first girls’ tennis player in Huntington Beach Union High School District history to advance to more than one CIF title match.
For the second straight year, though, she ran into a freshman phenom.
Ikemori again had to settle for runner-up honors Thursday at Biszantz Family Tennis Center.
Portola freshman Kenzie Nguyen was a bit too strong in the title match, earning a 7-5, 6-1 win.
The final match of her sparkling high school career was the first loss of the season for Ikemori, who Marina coach Chuck Kingman said finished with a 46-1 mark.
“It’s great,” she said. “Obviously, the win would have been nice, but it’s still really cool. There’s so many of us out there that want to get here, so it’s a real honor to get all the way to the finals.”
The UC Davis-bound Ikemori, seeded No. 4, fell to No. 3-seeded Nguyen after earning an upset victory over top-seeded Tsehay Driscoll of La Cañada, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, in the semifinals earlier Thursday.
The championship match seemed like a battle of nerves in the first set, with both players struggling to hold serve. Nguyen served for the set at 5-4 but was broken. The Pacific Coast League champion responded, immediately breaking back on Ikemori’s serve.
Nguyen was then able to serve out the set at 6-5.
“I felt like I had some momentum, and I kind of just lost it,” Ikemori said. “It was a missed opportunity, for sure, but she played well.”
Nguyen, playing aggressive tennis, then opened up a 4-0 lead in the second set before Ikemori could get her first game, which she earned with a backhand winner down the line on game point.
“She’s a very good player, I knew that,” said Nguyen, who was undefeated as a freshman for Portola and helped the Bulldogs reach the Open Division playoffs. “She’s very skilled and talented, and experienced. I knew she was going to break a couple of serves here and there, but I also knew that in order to win, I had to also break and hold.
“After the first set, I was kind of getting into a groove. I knew what needed to be done, and I just needed to execute.”
Ikemori got to the final after winning an exciting 150-minute match against one of her best friends in tennis, Driscoll, who is bound for Princeton.
The third set started with four straight breaks of serve. But, from 2-2, Ikemori won the last four games to secure the win.
“I think she was tired,” Ikemori said. “It was such a long match. Mentally I was just like, ‘Mika, you need to dial in and stay focused.’ I didn’t run out of steam; I kept running for every ball and pushed through. I tried to extend the points, and I think that got me the win.”
After the final, Ikemori posed for pictures with Marina coaches as well as her family. Her mother Lynn, and grandparents Myrtle and George, were there throughout the tournament to root her on.
Ikemori said her grandparents drive her to practice each day, as she continues to deal with a seizure disorder. She said the seizures have gotten better, though she still experiences them every day and during matches.
“I feel a lot more clear in my head, if that makes sense,” she said. “Before, it was harder for me to construct points and see the ball. It’s getting better … it’s not as severe to the point where it stops me from enjoying my life every day.”
Another CIF finals appearance was something to savor.
“It’s impressive in any year,” Kingman said. “To do it two years is definitely pretty impressive.”
Mater Dei’s Chloe Vu and Natalie Lynch defeated top-seeded Samantha Wang and Makaila Cheng of Arcadia in the CIF Individuals doubles title match.
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