YORBA LINDA — For a while, it appeared that there was very little to separate the Yorba Linda and Newport Harbor high school boys’ tennis teams on Wednesday afternoon in a CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoff semifinal match.
The Mustangs were top-seeded, with the Sailors at No. 4, but the margins appeared razor-thin. After the first round of play, the teams were tied in both sets (3-3) and games (22-22). Even their outfits mirrored each other, host Yorba Linda wearing navy blue polo shirts and white shorts and Newport Harbor sporting white shirts and blue shorts.
With the score still tied in the second round, four sets were close on four adjacent courts. It was up to either team to seize momentum.
The Mustangs did, and as a result they are headed to the first CIF title match in their program’s history.
Newport Harbor fell behind in that second round and lost the semifinal match, 11-7, at Yorba Linda High, ending the Sailors’ season.
But for Sailors Coach Kristen Case, there was pride in her team, which was making its first CIF semifinals appearance since 2003. Last year, Newport Harbor did not qualify for CIF and finished fifth in the six-team Sunset League.
“It took incredible effort and commitment and dedication by the players, to be able to turn it around like this within a year,” Case said. “They’ve got to be really proud of themselves. Whether you’re going to win or lose, you want to come off the court knowing that you supported one another, you gave it your all, you fought hard and gave it everything you had. They did that today, so they’ve got to hold their heads high.”
Of course, the addition of freshman No. 1 singles player Max McKennon also helped. McKennon celebrated his 15th birthday Wednesday with an easy sweep, 6-1, 6-0, 6-0, finishing off an undefeated dual match season.
Senior David Lee, one of three team captains along with fellow seniors Sam Leaman and David Sharp, won twice in singles for Newport Harbor (19-5). But Yorba Linda (23-1), which had swept all nine doubles sets in Monday’s 11-7 quarterfinal win over Fountain Valley, was still able to beat its second Sunset League team in two matches. On Wednesday, the Mustangs won seven of nine doubles sets.
Yorba Linda’s No. 1 pairing of Brandon Tong and Kyle Yee improved to 56-1 this season with a 6-0, 6-1, 6-4 sweep. The No. 2 team of Isaiah Seo and Darius Modarres also swept. They helped the Mustangs reach the title match against No. 2-seeded Redlands, a 10-8 semifinal winner against No. 3 Sage Hill, on Friday at the Claremont Club.
The Sailors actually led the match 5-4 in the second round after Leaman and Mark Schaefer pulled away for a victory against Yorba Linda’s No. 3 team of David Johnson and Ryan Lowery. But the Mustangs won the last three sets of the round. Yorba Linda No. 1 singles player Ryan Yang edged Lee, 6-4, and Tong and Lee rallied from a 4-3 deficit to beat Sharp and Andy Myers by the same score.
Newport Harbor singles player Cory Smith then served for the set against Yorba Linda’s Ben Trenery, but Trenery rallied for a 7-5 win that gave the Mustangs the same 7-5 advantage in sets.
“That’s about as tense as it gets in high school tennis,” Yorba Linda Coach Rey Lejano said. “Three-three after the first round, and four sets [in the second round] that were tightly contested. We were very fortunate to come out on the good end of that … Newport Harbor is such a great team, a great program. Kristen does such a good job with them. The boys, their families are just the best.”
The Mustangs then took care of business in the third round, winning four more sets to clinch the victory.
The Newport Harbor players ate cupcakes after the match in honor of McKennon’s birthday. Despite failing to make the program’s first CIF title match since 1984, they couldn’t be too disappointed about their season. Case said it was a two-year process that got the team to this point. Lee, Leaman and Sharp have all been team captains for the past two seasons.
“We’ve had a great season,” Sharp said. “Of course the result isn’t what we wanted, but I couldn’t be more proud of my team. We’ve had a great team, as far as both talent and support and teamwork. It’s been an amazing thing, from coming to school at an ungodly hour to do morning conditioning, through school and practice. We graduated from that all the way to the semifinals, and it’s been a wonderful process to be a part of.”
Lee and Schaefer, who were the Sunset League doubles champions, will compete in the CIF Individuals tournament along with league singles finalist McKennon. The Individuals tournament begins with the sectionals round on May 25; the Newport Harbor trio will compete at Whittier Narrows Tennis Center.