Huntington Beach High has never really been known as a tennis school.
There is no orange banner commemorating league titles for girls’ tennis in the gymnasium.
The tennis courts are nestled in a back corner of the large campus, out of sight of many.
“Half of the school doesn’t even know we have courts,” sophomore Haley Forth said. “When I came in as a freshman, people were like, ‘Where are the courts?’ ”
A strong freshman class is making a difference for the Oilers this season. And, after Monday afternoon’s 13-5 victory over visiting South Pasadena in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs, Huntington Beach is one match away from history.
The Oilers (15-6) will play at Pasadena Poly (13-1) in a semifinal match Wednesday. Pasadena Poly upset No. 2-seeded Newhall Hart 12-6 in another quarterfinal match.
A win Wednesday, and Huntington Beach would make its first CIF final in either girls’ or boys’ tennis.
“It’s not just the depth in singles, or depth in doubles,” Oilers coach Suzanne DeVries said. “It’s such a balanced team. On any given day, we can put a substitute in for either singles or doubles, and they can also win. It’s crazy.”
Wave League runner-up Huntington Beach used a team effort against South Pasadena (13-5), the third-place team from the traditionally strong Rio Hondo League. Each singles player or doubles team won at least one set.
Freshman Cindy Huynh swept 6-0, 6-2, 6-1 in singles, while two doubles teams also swept. Senior Emily Gray and freshman Daniella Pokorny won 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, improving to 9-0 this postseason. Sophomores Maggie Rae Walker and Forth also easily won 6-2, 6-2, 6-1.
Walker and Forth were a midseason pairing. Walker would sub into the doubles lineup during matches, while Forth started the season playing singles.
Walker said she is good friends off the court with Forth, and that has helped. They have impressed as a doubles team since they were first teamed against Laguna Beach on Oct. 11.
“[Forth] just wasn’t happy [in singles],” DeVries said. “She would double-fault and come off in tears, put so much pressure on herself … They’re great together, and Haley is a much happier person. She is having more fun in doubles.”
DeVries said her team was a bit tight at the beginning of the match. The teams were tied 3-3 after the first round after the Tigers’ Teryn Kum and Skylar Cornforth defeated the Oilers’ Kaitlyn Palacio and Alissa Wong 6-4 at No. 1 doubles.
But the Oilers cruised from there, winning five sets in both the second and third rounds.
Palacio and Wong came back to win their next two sets, while freshman Solaya Han and sophomore Arianne Vethan won one set each.
Walker and Forth quickly won the ninth set in the third round, before Palacio and Wong earned the clinching 10th set victory.
“They took off,” South Pasadena coach Karina Ward said. “I mean, it was tough. Our doubles didn’t quite get as many games as I think they could have today. I think that kind of hurt us, but it was a team effort, and everyone helped us get this far so I can’t really complain.”
The Oilers, making their first postseason appearance since 2009, certainly aren’t complaining. They have decided to stay a while.
They face another road trip Wednesday, after traveling last Friday to upset No. 3-seeded Oxnard Rio Mesa 13-5.
“I think the girls are starting to believe that they are good enough to do it,” DeVries said. “That’s what we’ve really been focusing on, really believing. There’s a reason we’re here, and that’s because we’ve demonstrated it, mentally and physically. It’s just been a super-fun ride for us.”
There are three freshman starters on the team, but also two seniors in Gray and Palacio. Gray said she would like nothing more than to finish her high school tennis career off with a CIF title. The Oilers are now just two victories away.