Costa Mesa High’s Ethan Votran competes in a No. 1 singles set during an Orange Coast League match at Estancia on Thursday.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Estancia High’s Jake Hastings chases down the ball against Costa Mesa in a No. 1 singles set during an Orange Coast League match on Thursday.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Estancia High’s Gavin Jimenez plays against Costa Mesa in a No. 2 singles set during an Orange Coast League match on Thursday.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Costa Mesa High’s Hritik Ronvelia hits in a No. 2 singles set during an Orange Coast League match at Estancia on Thursday.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Costa Mesa High’s Hartley Tran, right, and teammate Eli Weiss-Hung compete in a No. 1 doubles set during an Orange Coast League match at Estancia on Thursday.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Costa Mesa High’s Eli Weiss-Hung hits at the net in a No. 1 doubles set during an Orange Coast League match at Estancia on Thursday.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Costa Mesa High’s 17-1 rout in the first of three Battle for the Bell boys’ tennis matches with archrival Estancia was informed by several circumstances. Most satisfying: how nicely the Mustangs have grown since the program was restored three years ago.
There were just five players, combined varsity and junior varsity, in 2016, and the first big step occurred with the arrival of head coaches Ryan and Megan Broccolo the following year. A CIF Southern Section playoff run last season was a keen reward, and now — following powerhouse Laguna Beach’s shift into the Sunset Conference — the Orange Coast League title is within sight.
It’s too soon to predict such things — Thursday afternoon’s triumph at Estancia (2-5, 0-2 in league) was the Mustangs’ league opener, and Santa Ana and Orange figure to provide stiffer challenges — but it’s really, truly, finally achievable.
“If I’m not mistaken — because we look [at the championship banners] in the gym — I don’t think in school history, since 1958, that the boys have won a tennis championship,” Ryan Broccolo said. “Our goal’s to make [the] CIF [Southern Section Division 5 playoffs], but in the back of our mind, we’re hoping we can do something spectacular. And I think it’s as good a chance as ever this season to do it.”
Freshman Ethan Votran’s 6-3 victory in the battle of No. 1 singles players over Jake Hastings, the league’s top returning talent, and No. 2 Hritik Ronvelia’s 8-6 tiebreaker win after a 6-6 battle with Hastings bookended the triumph. The Mustangs, who are 6-3 overall, won 104 games to Estancia’s 35.
“It wasn’t entirely unexpected,” said first-year Eagles head coach Freddy Polanco, who is having “to start from scratch” with a young team short on court experience. “But when it actually happens, it still hits you hard.”
Costa Mesa, which dropped 10-8 and 11-7 decisions in last season’s meetings after four blowout losses in 2016-17, won every singles match by 6-0 tallies except the three against Hastings, who beat Nathan Trieu, 6-1, to claim Estancia’s lone point. The closest clashes in doubles were No. 2 team Devon Chavero and Devon Rogan’s 7-5 win and No. 3 duo Kaden Inskeep and Ed Gaites’ 6-4 victory over Ryan Van Doren and Misael Lopez, the Eagles’ No. 2 team.
Votran and Hastings are the Orange Coast League’s two best singles players — they’d played together at Kareem Gobran’s KG Elite camp — and their faceoff was the day’s spotlight match.
Votran called it a “very close match, a lot of close games,” and Hastings was impressed with the youngster’s game.
“He’s very consistent, his form is very powerful, his serves couldn’t miss ...,” Hastings said. “I don’t like playing friends of friends, but it has to happen, right? And, of course, against Costa Mesa, the rival. Can’t do anything about it.”
Hastings, an aggressive player with a sizzling first serve and a knack for net play, said he had to mentally get past that loss. His success in doing so? “Somewhat. ... Not really, no,” he said.
That showed against Ronvelia, who had lost in both previous meetings. Hastings let a tight lead disappear before and during the tiebreaker. Polanco thinks his ace shoulders too much responsibility for how the Eagles perform.
“He’ll never tell you that he does,” Polanco said, “but I definitely think that he feels he has to represent the school and the team for what it was and what he wants it to be, and it kind of rests on his shoulders to show what the school can be.”
The teams meet again on March 28 at Costa Mesa and April 4 at Estancia.
SCOTT FRENCH is a contributor to Times Community News.