The Corona del Mar High boys’ tennis team leaves the Pacific Coast League for the Sunset League next year, and that could mean the start of a rivalry with Fountain Valley.
The Sea Kings and Barons met in a nonleague match on March 6. Though CdM came away with what would appear to be an easy 14-4 victory, Fountain Valley coach Harshul Patel also had reason to feel optimistic. The Barons were closer than the final score would indicate, with one 7-6 tiebreaker loss and five set losses by a 6-4 score.
“I know we could have done better,” Patel said. “Our No. 1 doubles [team] didn’t pull the weight and we just came up a little short.”
CdM and Fountain Valley are both ranked No. 5, in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and 2 respectively, early in the season. Both teams have high hopes for an extended playoff run after losing in the quarterfinals last year, but first comes league.
CdM (5-1), which suffered its first loss of the season at No. 2 Palos Verdes Peninsula on Thursday, will be tested right off the bat. The Sea Kings play host to Beckman, ranked No. 8 in Division 1, in their Pacific Coast League opener on Monday. The second league match Thursday is at University, the defending champion and top-ranked team in Division 1.
Junior Kyle Pham and senior Diego Fernandez del Valle lead coach Jamie Gresh’s Sea Kings in singles. Each has a 17-1 record. The senior No. 1 doubles team of Jacob Cooper and Ryan Wessler also is 17-1 this season.
Fountain Valley (5-2) opens Sunset League play at Los Alamitos on Thursday. Patel said he thinks the defending champion Griffins are Fountain Valley’s top competition in league, though he considers his team as the favorite to win its first league title since 2014. Junior Justin Nguyen, sophomore Ryan Trinh and freshman Ben Nguyen lead the Barons in singles.
Sage Hill (3-2), a Division 2 semifinalist a year ago, also appears strong as it moves up to Division 1. The Lightning lost just one starter from last year, though it was their top player as Adam Langevin graduated. Sage Hill, led by junior Emin Torlic and sophomore Rohun Krishnan in singles, appears in good position to defend its Academy League title but will have nonleague tests, like a match at CdM on April 5. Last year, the Lightning beat CdM for the first time in program history.
Newport Harbor (5-3) also made the Division 2 semifinals last year, but is rebuilding after last year’s Daily Pilot Dream Team Player of the Year, Max McKennon, decided to be home-schooled as a sophomore. The Sailors also lost most of the rest of their starting lineup to graduation, though senior Andy Myers and junior Josh Watkins have been strong singles players for the team.
“You have seven guys on the court that it’s their varsity debut,” Sailors coach Kristen Case said. “It says a lot about their competitiveness and their teamwork and their determination, to have already earned a winning record at this point. That has exceeded my expectations.”
In the Orange Coast League, Laguna Beach (2-3) is looking for its 10th straight league title before it also heads to the Sunset League next year. Junior Mason Lebby and senior Blake Hawkins are leaders for coach Rick Conkey’s Breakers, who open league play at Saddleback on Tuesday. Lebby is the defending league champion in singles.
The battle for the second in the league is typically fierce; last year it was Costa Mesa, led by coaches Meg and Ryan Broccolo, that earned the spot. The Mustangs (1-4) are led by sophomores Hritik Ronvelia and Nathan Trieu, who both play singles and are co-team captains.
“Our ultimate goal is to make CIF,” Ryan Broccolo said. “We have a team made up 100% of underclassmen, freshman and sophomores. The future is bright for the Mustangs.”
Estancia coach Leland Buttle said that the Eagles, by contrast, have six seniors on their roster. Estancia finished third in the Orange Coast League last season and is led by junior Jake Hastings in singles and seniors Matt Forbath and Bryan Vivar in doubles.
“Our hope is to get to CIF and make it past the wild-card round, which is where we got eliminated the last two seasons,” Buttle said.
The Mustangs and Eagles play twice in league, on April 3 at Costa Mesa and April 11 at Estancia.