Column: Depth carried CdM to CIF girls’ tennis title

Corona del Mar's Danielle Willson, a four-year varsity player, helped the Sea Kings win their first CIF Southern Section Division 1 title since 2006.
(Scott Smeltzer | Staff Photographer)

The Corona del Mar High girls’ tennis team has made at least the CIF Southern Section semifinals in 17 of the last 19 seasons.

It’s an impressive span that speaks to the consistency of the program. Over the past two decades, the Sea Kings have been arguably the best overall program in Southern California. But the Southern Section doesn’t give out championship plaques for making the semifinals.

Winning a CIF Southern Section title can be hard. Look at the Mater Dei High football team, which has consistently been a top program for years but has not won a section title since 1999.

The Monarchs are favored to break that streak this year in Division 1. It may have been a long time coming, but things certainly have come together for CdM girls’ tennis in 2017. The top-seeded Sea Kings (23-0) won their first Division 1 title since 2006 on Friday with a 13-5 victory over Pacific Coast League rival University at the Claremont Club. It was the ninth CIF championship overall in program history.

The success of coach Jamie Gresh’s Sea Kings, who are the No. 2 seed for the CIF USTA Southern California Regionals that begin Friday back at the Claremont Club, has been staggering. Only one match all season, a 10-8 semifinal victory over No. 4-seeded Arcadia, was closer than 12-6. In a league that produced the two Division 1 finalists, as well as Division 2 champion Beckman, CdM won every match by a margin of 14-4 or greater.

It’s hard to top the singles lineup of league singles champion Danielle Willson, who’s bound for USC, as well as senior Annika Bassey and junior Kristina Evloeva. They have dominated opponents all season. But so did CdM’s doubles depth.

After CdM’s 13-5 Division 1 quarterfinal victory over San Marino, Titans coach Melwin Pereira correctly said the No. 3 doubles set in the first round was a big one. CdM senior Brooke Kenerson and freshman Lauren Friedman beat San Marino’s Sophia Lee and Sabrina Lieu 7-5, helping CdM take a 5-1 sets lead.

Corona del Mar’s Lauren Friedman, left, and Brooke Kenerson, right, have played well at No. 3 doubles this year.
(Tim Berger | Staff Photographer )

Pereira had stacked his doubles, putting his top team of Lee and Lieu at the No. 3 spot. He assumed that CdM had done the same, and was surprised when I told him that Kenerson and Friedman were, in fact, the Sea Kings’ No. 3 team.

Not that they were any less qualified than the pairings of league doubles champions Shaya Northrup and Paulina Loredo, as well as juniors Roxy MacKenzie and Bella McKinney. Depth like this is hard to find top to bottom. The only team I’ve seen in recent years that came close was Palos Verdes Peninsula, which won three straight Division 1 titles from 2013-15 behind Ena Shibahara, who now plays at UCLA.

In my first year at the Daily Pilot, I covered another dominant CdM girls’ tennis team. It was the Sea Kings’ last Division 1 championship team, in 2006. That year’s squad went 24-0, capping the season with a 12-6 win over Troy in the Division 1 title match.

How does this year’s team match up to the 2006 squad? Earlier this season, I asked that question to current Sage Hill girls’ tennis coach Cierra Gaytan, who played at No. 2 singles as a sophomore on that 2006 CdM team. Gaytan, who is a private coach for MacKenzie, told me that this year’s CdM team is better. The difference is the depth, she said.

That depth will serve the Sea Kings well this weekend, as they go for their first SoCal Regionals title in program history. They will be the last team matches of the season for a team that has been simply dominant.

Twitter: @mjszabo