Haley Forth switched from singles to doubles midway through the season for the Huntington Beach High girls’ tennis team, but she hit the second-serve return Friday afternoon with the aggressiveness of a singles player.
The match against Laguna Beach was coming down to the wire. History was on the line. Yet the sophomore Forth went for it, smashing a forehand return winner down the alley on the “deuce plus one” point.
Forth and sophomore partner Maggie Rae Walker had just broken serve to beat Laguna Beach’s Cosette Basto and Hana Berri, 6-3. It was the clinching point in the clinching set for the Oilers, who edged the Breakers 10-8 to capture the CIF Southern Section Division 3 title at the Claremont Club.
It is the first CIF girls’ or boys’ tennis championship in school history at Huntington Beach.
“Once I hit that shot, a bunch of relief just [hit me],” Forth said. “It was stressful, but we got through it and we did amazing.”
The same could be said for Huntington Beach (17-6) as a team, as the Oilers used their depth to their advantage in their run through the playoffs. Every singles player or doubles team won at least once Friday for Huntington Beach, which won the rubber match against Laguna Beach (14-11). The teams split their Wave League meetings this season, with the Breakers going on to win the league title.
Huntington Beach still came away with the top prize in Division 3. The Oilers were able to withstand a 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 sweep at No. 1 singles by Breakers junior Ella Pachl and a 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 sweep at No. 1 doubles by Breakers senior Megan Mindte and junior Vanessa Gee.
Mindte and Gee rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the first round to shock Oilers senior Emily Gray and freshman Daniella Pokorny 7-5, handing them their first loss of the postseason. Still, Huntington Beach took an early 4-2 sets lead.
“[Gray and Pokorny] were totally bummed,” Oilers coach Suzanne DeVries said. “And I was like, ‘You know what, that’s what our team’s for.’ That’s what I keep talking about, our balance and our depth.”
Oilers freshman Cindy Huynh earned a key 6-4 singles win over Breakers freshman Sarah MacCallum in the first round. The two underclassmen split their two meetings in league play; each won twice Friday.
“I was nervous at first,” Huynh said. “I felt like if I won that one, it would help the team a lot.”
Huntington Beach took a 7-5 lead after the second round, before quickly winning two sets in the third round. Gray and Pokorny earned their second win of the day, beating Laguna’s Jessa Chaney and Camille Deckey 6-0 for the eighth set. Huynh beat Laguna freshman Ainsley Beresford by the same score for the ninth set win.
Forth and Walker provided the clinching 10th set, in dramatic fashion on Forth’s forehand winner.
“She all of a sudden just went for it,” DeVries said. “That takes a lot of guts. Skills are hard to improve through the season. You don’t have a lot of time, but what we really improved on was our mental strength.”
Freshman Solaya Han and sophomore Arianne Vethan each earned one singles win for Huntington Beach, while senior Kaitlyn Palacio and junior Alissa Wong won twice at No. 3 doubles.
Breakers coach Rick Conkey said he is hopeful that his team will make another deep run next year. DeVries could say the same; both teams graduate just two seniors from the starting lineup.
Huynh, who played No. 1 singles throughout the season for the Oilers, said she has two younger sisters entering the program in the next couple of years. By the time she is a senior, she said her sisters will be a sophomore and freshman, respectively.
Huntington Beach may be a team on the rise. But for Huynh, Han and Pokorny, it was definitely a freshman year to remember capped by a history-making win.