HUNTINGTON BEACH — It was a quiet moment Thursday afternoon, away from the action on court, but it said so much about the Newport Harbor High girls’ tennis team.
No. 3 singles player Jenn Kingsley had just given Edison’s top player, Libby Jubas, a run for her money before falling in a tiebreaker. Kingsley came off the court with tears in her eyes before she was approached by Newport senior co-captain Reagan Rutter.
As the rest of the Sailors huddled up, Rutter spent a couple of minutes talking to Kingsley, who has been battling sickness lately.
“It was tears of exhaustion and tears of happiness,” Rutter said. “She just felt so good about how she’s been playing. I was just there to pump her up and [say] ‘You’ve got this, I’m so proud of you. Let’s bring it the third round.’”
Moments like these mean the most to Newport Harbor Coach Kristen Case. But the end result from the match wasn’t so bad, either.
The Sailors beat Edison on the road, 12-6, to clinch second place in the Sunset League for the second straight year. It was a sizable accomplishment for a team that returned just three starters from last year, and starts six sophomores. But, in a way, Rutter’s time with Kingsley symbolized what the Sailors are really all about.
“They’re just incredible girls,” Case said. “We are so lucky to have this group of phenomenal young ladies. Their character, their selflessness, I have nothing but amazing things to say about them. The way they support one another is just amazing.”
The Sailors’ other co-captain, senior Kate Knight, also had a big day at No. 1 singles despite her own continuing battle with sickness. Despite clearly being at less than 100% physically, she won two of three sets, each 7-5, over the Chargers’ Krista Hirtler and Emily Read.
Kingsley and No. 2 singles player Peyton Espley-Jones, both sophomores, each won a set. Even Kingsley’s tiebreaker loss to Jubas was impressive. The first time the teams played on Oct. 8, Jubas had easily topped Kingsley, 6-1.
Newport Harbor (13-7, 7-2 in league) won that first match against Edison (6-3 in league) by an 11-7 count. The Sailors improved the result Thursday, winning four sets in every round. They did it behind a dominating effort in doubles, where they won eight of nine sets.
Sophomores Kendall Cosenza and Anna Burke easily swept at No. 1 doubles, 6-2, 6-1, 6-0. Burke said mental toughness was key, as Edison had a sizable group of student fans there at the start of the match.
The Sailors ended up having student supporters, too. Newport’s varsity girls’ volleyball team, which also played at Edison on Thursday, stood and cheered behind the court of Rutter and her partner, junior Annie LaGrandeur, in the first round. Rutter and LaGrandeur were locked in the longest set of the round, against Edison’s No. 2 team of Alexa Yatauro and Riley McGarrigle.
Rutter faced two break points in her last service game at 5-3, but rallied to serve out the set. She and LaGrandeur went on to sweep as well.
“Tennis and volleyball at Newport, we both are No. 1 supporters of each other,” LaGrandeur said. “I know me and Reagan playing that last match [with them there], that gave us that little extra push to just represent our school. It got us pumped ... and I think it gave our whole entire team that momentum. I think it just showed Edison that we’re here to play and nothing’s going to stop them.”
Edison Coach Dave Lemons said before the match that he hoped for a better day for his singles players, compared to the first meeting. Jubas, a sophomore, did sweep in singles for the Chargers. But the Sailors were just too deep.
Newport’s No. 3 doubles team of sophomores Livy Zehnder and Elle Zielinski won two sets Thursday, playing what Case called their best tennis of the season. In the first match against Edison, Zehnder and Zielinski had lost each set, 6-2.
“We’ve been fighting so hard,” Rutter said. “I think that we’ve all been really good about implementing what we’ve been working on in practice, which is being super-aggressive and stuff. I think we’ve all improved immensely through this journey. Especially from the last time we played them, it was a whole new game.”
Newport Harbor finishes league play at Fountain Valley on Monday. The league tournament is scheduled for Wednesday at Seal Beach Tennis Center and Thursday at Marina High.
The CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs will follow. The Sailors are ready to keep improving.
“In this league, it’s a huge accomplishment,” Case said of finishing second in league, behind defending champion Los Alamitos. “It’s amazing how they have improved. Getting second, for this group, completely surpasses my expectations. And they still have more to do.”