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High School Female Athletes of the Week: Huntington Beach's Emily Gray and Daniella Pokorny performed under pressure

High School Female Athletes of the Week: Huntington Beach's Emily Gray and Daniella Pokorny performed under pressure
Daniella Pokorny, left, and Emily Gray went 14-1 as a doubles team in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs for Huntington Beach, which won its first CIF title. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Daniella Pokorny could not see a path to winning her partner over when she was placed with Emily Gray to form a doubles pairing on the Huntington Beach High girls’ tennis team.

Although she had been playing tennis since age 7 , Pokorny, a freshman, felt that experience would not be much of a factor. She was flat-out terrified, as high-schoolers can be, by the age difference.

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“In the beginning, she scared me, just because she’s a senior,” Pokorny said.

Those feelings of anxiety melted away in short order. It did not take long before the duo was laughing with each other over the smallest things, with Pokorny likening it to mother-daughter bonding.

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They found out that they had more in common than they knew, including a past that had required them to focus on certain sports later on in life. Pokorny had been a competitive gymnast for six years before focusing on tennis.

Gray had tried her hand at just about every sport growing up. She rattled off a list that included basketball, softball, soccer, volleyball, tennis, track, cross-country, golf, ice hockey, figure skating, gymnastics and dance.

The senior was far from a conventional tennis player. Her windshield-wiper backhand volley can attest to that, but Gray knew that her coaches understood her best.

A first-time varsity player, Gray said that continuity in the coaching staff helped her progress. As a junior varsity player her freshman and junior seasons, she had Kim and Bob Renko as her coaches. They remained part of the staff when Gray made the jump to varsity, and Oilers coach Suzanne DeVries received the information that she needed to put together a successful doubles team.

“She knew that I liked the net more, and I needed a baseline player,” Gray said. “The [coaching] consistency helps me find the people to play with.”

Along with matching up well, Gray’s background in contact sports gave her a fearlessness at the net that DeVries said opponents found intimidating.

“You’ve got a big powerhouse and a very seasoned tennis player in Daniella, and then you have Emily in there just tracking the ball,” DeVries said. “She just tracks that ball, and she is a very unconventional player.

“She just makes things happen and she’s very intimidating. You can’t read her.”

Gray and Pokorny became a solid pairing atop the Oilers’ doubles lineup, the only duo to stay together throughout the entire season. They became a major asset in the postseason, but not before the most senior members of the Oilers expressed surprise about their berth into the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs.

In DeVries’ eight seasons of involvement with the program, the Oilers had never qualified for the playoffs as a team.

“I had to get online, and I’m asking some other coaches, ‘What is this about?’ ” DeVries said. “Usually, I’m way done with work by now. Now, all of the sudden, I’m going, ‘Wait, we have another match.’

“I came out to the bench and said, ‘You guys. It’s not all over. We have matches now. We have practice.’

“It was just funny.”

Gray and Pokorny steamrolled through the playoffs, winning their first 12 sets and going 14-1 overall en route to helping Huntington Beach capture its first CIF title in program history.

The Oilers’ No. 1 doubles team faced a stressful moment in the semifinals against Pasadena Poly. They trailed 4-1 in the first round of match play, but rallied to win the set in a tiebreaker.

“When me and Emily are the last match, we always just come out on top,” Pokorny said. “The pressure just motivates us to win because it shows that we have something to prove.”

Adversity struck again when Gray and Pokorny dropped the opening set against Laguna Beach’s Megan Mindte and Vanessa Gee in the Division 3 final, but the Oilers’ top pairing gathered itself and dropped just one game over the next two sets. The Oilers went on to beat the Breakers 10-8 for the Division 3 championship.

“They were really upset, but they turned it around,” DeVries said. “They took about 10 minutes, went back out on the court, and they delivered a bagel to the next team, and I think they gave one [game] away on the next one. They were 6-0, 6-1.”

The ability of Gray and Pokorny to perform in the clutch became apparent when Huntington Beach picked up a big regular-season win at home against Edison to begin the second half of Wave League play. A sizable crowd showed up to the match, and the tandem swept its matches to help the Oilers to a 10-8 win.

“For a couple of high school girls, that’s unheard of,” DeVries said of their ability to play under pressure. “That’s really great mental strength. Under pressure, those girls, I always felt like, even if they were down, I knew I could look down, and I knew that they were going to make it happen.”

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Emily Gray

Born: March 3, 2001

Hometown: Huntington Beach

Height: 5 feet 6

Weight: 130 pounds

Sport: Tennis

Year: Senior

Coach: Suzanne DeVries

Favorite food: Pizza topped with olives

Favorite movie: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

Favorite athletic moment: The Huntington Beach girls’ tennis team defeated Laguna Beach 10-8 in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 final at the Claremont Club on Nov. 9.

Week in review: Gray and her partner Daniella Pokorny won two out of three sets to help Huntington Beach edge Laguna Beach 10-8 in the Division 3 final. They dropped just one set throughout the playoffs.

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Daniella Pokorny

Born: July 11, 2004

Hometown: Huntington Beach

Height: 5 feet 5

Weight: 120 pounds

Sport: Tennis

Year: Freshman

Coach: Suzanne DeVries

Favorite food: Grilled cheese sandwiches

Favorite movie: “Mamma Mia”

Favorite athletic moment: The Huntington Beach girls’ tennis team defeated Laguna Beach 10-8 in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 final at the Claremont Club on Nov. 9.

Week in review: Pokorny and her partner Emily Gray won two out of three sets to help Huntington Beach edge Laguna Beach 10-8 in the Division 3 final. They dropped just one set throughout the playoffs.

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