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University boys’ tennis again too tough for Corona del Mar in CIF final

Corona del Mar No. 1 singles player Niels Hoffmann plays in Redlands.
Corona del Mar No. 1 singles player Niels Hoffmann plays against University in the CIF Southern Section Open Division title match in Redlands on Friday.
(James Carbone)
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Patience was the word of the day Friday.

The Corona del Mar and University high school boys’ tennis teams had to wait for courts to become available for the CIF Southern Section Open Division title match at the University of Redlands.

Update:

10:08 a.m. May 11, 2024This article was updated with more information, photos and quotes from Friday’s match.

The match finally started at about 4:30 p.m., nearly two hours behind schedule.

CdM’s wait has felt like much longer than that.

University reigned again, earning an 11-7 victory in the waning light to capture their third straight Open Division title.

Each time, the Trojans have beaten the Sea Kings in the title match.

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Corona del Mar No. 2 singles player Jack Cross.
Corona del Mar No. 2 singles player Jack Cross yells out after scoring a point against University during Friday’s match.
(James Carbone)

“They’re a very, very good team in every position,” CdM coach Jamie Gresh said. “It’s not the result we wanted. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s not for lack of effort or concentration. We just came up short.”

Corona del Mar has been searching for its first CIF Southern Section title since 2003. In that time, University has won 11 CIF championships, five of those against CdM and always in the top division.

The Sea Kings, meanwhile, still made three straight CIF finals for the first time in program history.

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my guys,” Gresh said. “They’ve had no hiccups, and then we get to Uni in the final and they just play better than us. But to be that consistent and three years in a row make the final? I love my guys. It’s a great culture and a great camaraderie.

“I told the kids before the match that I love them, they’re great kids. I told them the same thing after the match. They always try their hardest and they always come to compete, so it’s OK.”

CdM's No. 1 doubles team of Jonathan Hinkel, left, and Roger Geng slap hands after winning a point on Friday.
CdM’s No. 1 doubles team of Jonathan Hinkel, left, and Roger Geng slap hands after winning a point against University on Friday.
(James Carbone)

USC-bound senior Niels Hoffmann swept at No. 1 singles for the Sea Kings in Friday’s match. Senior Jack Cross, bound for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, won twice.

The Trojans, meanwhile, earned a doubles sweep from senior captains SangHyuk Im and Bradley Yung, while Langston Walter-Wu and Mimo Alajeely also swept. This was part of a strong showing that saw University win eight of nine sets overall in doubles.

Freshman Kusa Krishna won twice in singles for the champions, including a 6-2 victory over Cross in the second round.

CdM had beaten University on games in the teams’ first nonleague meeting on Feb. 15, the Sea Kings’ first dual match win over the Trojans since 2006. But University won 11-7 on March 20, also capturing eight of nine doubles sets in that match.

“[The loss earlier this year] was just more fuel for the fire,” said Im, bound for MIT. “We were always motivated to play CdM because we know they’re good. Jack and Niels especially, having to play against those top two guys, it’s always tough. It puts a lot of pressure on the doubles, so we always try to come out with fire.”

CdM's No. 2 doubles team of Brody Jao and Tristan Pham competes against University during Friday's CIF title match.
CdM’s No. 2 doubles team of Brody Jao and Tristan Pham competes against University during Friday’s CIF title match.
(James Carbone)

The match was tied 3-3 after the first round, as CdM used singles wins from Hoffmann and Cross and a 6-0 doubles victory by Jonathan Hinkel and Roger Geng over the Trojans’ Cedric Lichtsteiner and Joseph Chan.

CdM almost had the lead, but Walter-Wu and Alajeely rallied for a 7-5 victory over CdM’s Ivan Pfleuger and Ansel Lee at No. 3 doubles.

“That was kind of a pivotal set,” Gresh said. “Had we gone up 4-2, it has a different feel to it. You know, it’s tough. There’s not much margin for error.”

CdM sophomore Jack Barnes earned a 6-3 singles victory over University substitute Reid Hashimoto in the second round, keeping the Sea Kings’ hope alive as they trailed 7-5.

CdM's No. 1 doubles team of Jonathan Hinkel, left, and Roger Geng competes against University on Friday.
(James Carbone)

But Im and Yung earned the clinching 10th win in the third round for the Trojans, dropping their racquets and chest-bumping in celebration.

Hoffmann said playing against the Trojans is always a fun match.

“At least we know what to expect,” he said. “It’s kind of like the final boss, right? This one felt closer to last year … we just didn’t get it.”

The teams could meet again in the CIF USTA Southern California Regional Championships, set for May 17 and 18 at the Claremont Club.

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