There is a youth movement on the Corona del Mar High boys’ tennis team this year, but the Sea Kings have not lightened their schedule.
On Wednesday, the Sea Kings faced a stiff challenge in the form of last year’s CIF Southern Section Division 1 runner-up in Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula.
Even without top singles player Kyle Pham (illness), the Sea Kings nearly pulled off the upset.
Junior Joshua Masuda swept in singles, and No. 3 Peninsula rallied over the last two rounds of match play to defeat host CdM 10-8 in a nonleague match.
CdM, which is ranked No. 7, dropped to 3-3 on the season. The three losses have come to No. 1 University, No. 6 Northwood and the Panthers (5-2).
“I think we played really well today,” Sea Kings coach Jamie Gresh said. “We competed probably the best we’ve done all season, and we gave ourselves a chance to beat a team that is ranked above us.
“I thought we competed really well. Our singles was solid today, I thought. Our doubles needed to be a little bit stronger, but they had a really good doubles lineup out there.”
The Sea Kings earned five of their set victories in singles. Freshman Maxym Krykunenko featured flat and powerful groundstrokes that did not break down under pressure. He closed out his first-round match against Joshua Blinder with a forehand that landed just inside the baseline for a winner, closing out the set 7-5.
“I knew that if I didn’t attack, …I knew that I would lose because that’s my game,” Krykunenko said of his game plan. “If I just defend, I wouldn’t win, because that’s not how I play.
“I just went for every ball, and it managed to work most of the time.”
CdM has been a top boys’ tennis program in Southern California, so it is not surprising to hear that younger players have come out to watch the team.
Krykunenko said he used to take in the Sea Kings’ matches, before joining CdM himself this year. He remembers watching players like former singles ace Diego Fernandez del Valle, and he will have plenty of time to make a similar mark on the program.
Sophomore Bradley Amor and Krykunenko each won two sets in singles for the Sea Kings, who led the match on sets by a total of 4-2 after the first round.
A turning point in the match came when Masuda rallied from down a break to defeat Krykunenko in the second round. The set went to a tiebreaker, with Masuda winning it 7-6 (3) to even the team battle at 6-6 heading into the final round.
“He’s a really smart player, so you’ve always got to mix up the pace and the spin,” Masuda said. “He was reading my topspin shots in the beginning. I threw in some slices and brought him into net, so he would come in on a weaker approach shot, and then I would have a good chance at passing him.
“That was kind of my strategy at the end of the match.”
Panthers coach Mike Hoeger said he had planned to play sophomore Stetson Martz, who was coming back from a broken toe, just one set on Wednesday. After Austin Dick and Scott Thompson won a set at the No. 3 doubles position in the first round, Hoeger pulled the trigger a match early. Stanley Liu and Martz went on to win two crucial matches in doubles.