Corona del Mar boys’ tennis blows past Harvard-Westlake to reach third straight CIF final

Corona del Mar's Jack Cross, shown earlier this season, swept in singles Wednesday.
Corona del Mar’s Jack Cross, shown earlier this season, swept in singles Wednesday to help the Sea Kings reach their third straight CIF title match.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

There aren’t exactly a lot of secrets between the Corona del Mar and University high school boys’ tennis teams.

Both have longstanding coaches, Jamie Gresh and John Kessler. Both have a history of being among the best teams in the CIF Southern Section, year in and year out.

“We have a lot of mutual respect,” Gresh said. “I think it’s a great rivalry. It’s 3 miles away.”


That number, three, suddenly looms large. The second-seeded Sea Kings and top-seeded Trojans will now match up in the Open Division title match for the third straight time, as the rubber match for their season series will decide which team takes home the championship hardware.

The match will take place at the University of Redlands, on Friday at 2:45 p.m.

Corona del Mar (18-1) just hopes it is peaking at the right time. The Sea Kings looked good on Wednesday, coming up with a number of close set wins in a 15-3 Open Division semifinal victory over Studio City Harvard-Westlake at the CdM courts.

University (21-1), the two-time defending Open Division champion, advanced to another final with an 11-7 win over Palos Verdes.

CdM beat University on games on Feb. 15, the Sea Kings’ first win over the Trojans since 2006. But University earned an 11-7 home win in the teams’ second meeting on March 20.

The Sea Kings are seeking their first CIF Southern Section title since 2003.

“We know exactly what we’re expecting,” CdM senior singles player Jack Cross said. “We know if we’re not on our A-plus game, they’re probably going to get the better of us. We’ve got to show up ready to go and just give it all we’ve got for a chance to win.”

Corona del Mar won eight singles sets and seven doubles sets to get past the Wolverines in an emotional match. The Sea Kings clinched it with their 10th set win in the second round, when senior Jonathan Hinkel and junior Roger Geng pulled out a tiebreaker win over Harvard-Westlake’s Arya Fattahi and Matthew Reiter.

Jonathan Hinkel and Roger Geng, shown earlier this season, swept in doubles against Harvard-Westlake on Wednesday.
Jonathan Hinkel and Roger Geng, shown earlier this season, swept in doubles against Harvard-Westlake on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Hinkel and Geng swept their three sets, while Brody Jao and Tristan Pham won twice in doubles. Jack Barnes also won twice, with partners Ansel Lee and Jack Knox.

The fiery Jao and Pham also won in the second round, rallying for a 7-5 victory over the equally emotional Teddy Ingold and Andrew Kurgun.

“We both knew that we could dig deep,” Jao said. “That’s all it was … I was kind of feeding off them a little bit, so it made it a lot more fun.”

Barnes and Lee staged the third CdM doubles comeback of the round, earning a 6-4 win over Colin Kennedy and Elliott Meth. Of CdM’s seven doubles wins, six were by scores of 6-3 or closer.

“I thought the breakdown was probably going to be seven [singles sets] and three [doubles sets],” Gresh said. “I thought that would be our pathway to 10, but our doubles played exceptional today.”

Ojai singles champion Niels Hoffmann and Cross swept in singles for CdM. Six-foot-five sophomore Ivan Pflueger won twice, and his 7-6 (7-2) tiebreaker victory over Harvard-Westlake’s Alexander Nickoll in the first round also loomed large.

CdM doubles player Tristan Pham, shown earlier this season, played well with partner Brody Jao on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

With players from both teams watching, Nickoll served for the match at 5-4 before Pflueger rallied. The win gave CdM a 5-1 sets advantage after the first round.

Pflueger said he didn’t mind the extra eyeballs on his match.

“It happens a lot, because Niels and Jack win in five minutes,” he said with a smile. “I like it. I definitely feel like if I’m a little bit down on myself, that brings me up a little bit. Jack was trying to lift me up on the court next to me, and that got me in a positive mindset.”

CdM won just one doubles set in its last meeting with University, but Wednesday’s showing left the Sea Kings feeling positively about their chances on Friday.

“I’m hoping that we can bring that same level of focus and fun,” Gresh said. “We served and returned today probably the best we have all year.”