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Newport Harbor girls’ tennis falls at San Clemente in CIF opener

It might have been easy to overlook Kat Smith and Carolyn Altshuler on the Newport Harbor High girls’ tennis team, even if they were the only two seniors in the starting lineup.

Smith, in her second year as team captain but first year starting, worked her way up from the frosh-soph team as a freshman to a varsity starter in doubles. Altshuler moved from doubles to No. 3 singles as a senior.

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“It was a hard transition,” Altshuler said. “Honestly, though, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was more than happy to step up and fill a role that our team needed. I’m so privileged to be able to play with these girls. When coach [Kristen Case] said, ‘I need you to play singles this season,’ I was all for it. It was a long, hard journey, but in the end my tennis is better.”

Case called her two senior starters the epitome of what the team is about, but everyone filled a role. It allowed the Sailors to come together and earn many close wins this season, even if Wednesday’s result wasn’t one of them.

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San Clemente beat Newport Harbor 13-5 in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs at home.

The Tritons (11-2), who shared the South Coast League title with Dana Hills, were too strong in singles. Junior Sydney Donovan and freshman Jillian Torcaso each swept in singles, while junior Jenna Yeam likely would have swept as well. But Yeam, the South Coast League singles runner-up, had to default her third-round match against the Sailors’ Kristin Lindh with what San Clemente coach John Stephens said was a back injury.

“We thought we had a little more strength in singles coming in, and fortunately we proved that,” Stephens said.

Case preferred to talk about the season of the Sailors (13-6), who finished second in the Surf League behind rival Corona del Mar. Of the Sailors’ 13 wins this season, nine came by a score of 11-7 or closer, including 11-7 and 10-8 wins over third-place Los Alamitos in league to help Newport Harbor place second.

“We don’t have anyone where we’re like, ‘Oh yeah, they’re going to get an easy three [sets],’” Case said. “Every match, everybody has had to pull their weight in some way, shape or form.”

Newport Harbor won four doubles sets Wednesday. The No. 1 team of junior co-captain Amra Barton and junior Avery Wooden won twice, while juniors Sterling Solomon and Riley DeCinces won once at No. 2 doubles. Smith and her partner, sophomore Trish Harano, also won once at No. 3 doubles.

San Clemente had a 5-1 lead after the first round, and led 9-3 after the second round.

For their part, Altshuler and Smith still had plenty of smiles even after the loss. Altshuler walked off the court following a 6-1 loss to Donovan and gave high-fives to several Newport Harbor team parents sitting courtside, after receiving a big hug from her mother, Kimaleigh.

“Great season, man,” Carolyn Altshuler said.

Neither Altshuler nor Smith said they plan to play college tennis, though they are likely to stick with the sport through club or intramurals.

They will both remember their time within the Newport Harbor program.

“Our team is always about serving your role and being there for your teammates,” Altshuler said. “This year, we lost a few girls early on in the season due to injury, and everyone stepped up and helped out where they could. This team was like a family.”

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