Are two singles players a good doubles team?
They can be in boys' high school tennis. There will be two different strategies in play today as CIF Southern Section Individuals begin at The Tennis Club and Corona del Mar High.
All eight locals in the contest are playing doubles. They'll need to win three rounds to make it to the round of 16 on May 28 at Seal Beach Tennis Center.
Some of the players, like Newport Harbor's Jason Cernius, Troy Arnold, Craig McKennon and Greg Brostek, are quite used to doubles. They've been teamed all year, and Cernius and Arnold won the Sunset League doubles championship by taking down McKennon and Brostek.
But the rest of the players today have been more into the singles game. Andrew Kurzweil and Alex Manolakas have typically been singles players for Sage Hill, yet they teamed up to win their second straight Academy League doubles title. CdM's Ryan Peyton and Shane Korber have been the Sea Kings' top two singles players all year, but as a doubles team they finished second in the Pacific Coast League tournament.
Peyton and Korber appear to have a legitimate chance to win a CIF doubles title, like the Sea Kings' Dustin Hladek and Fabian Matthews did in 2006 and '07.
Hladek was a doubles player, but Matthews was normally the No. 1 singles player. Yet they made it work for two years. And after Hladek graduated, Matthews went on to win a CIF singles title.
But I've also seen the other side of the coin. In 2006, the Sea Kings' Jill Damion and Cierra Gaytan-Leach lost a close CIF Individuals semifinal girls' match against Dana Hills, even running into each other on a few key points. Clearly there, communication was an issue.
"[Gaytan-Leach and Damion] didn't really have a game plan, and Dana Hills had a very clear game plan," CdM Coach Brian Ricker said at the time. "Jill and Cierra ended up having to feel each other's game out; it's just too bad they had to do that in the semifinals. But that's the reality of singles players going into doubles ... It's hard to be aggressive if you're not really sure what your partner's going to do."
So being a true doubles team may help a bit. That's something that Peyton and Korber will need to try to become as they move through the draw.
Ricker has clearly been in plenty of exciting matches in his 10 years as coach at Laguna Beach and CdM. Yet Tuesday's 11-7 win over Palos Verdes in the CIF Southern Section Division I quarterfinals ranks right up there.
The Sea Kings were holding an 8-7 lead late in the match, and could have possibly lost on games. Heads craned back and forth between the singles and doubles courts at CdM, yet the Sea Kings finished extremely strong.
CdM ended with doubles victories from the No. 1 team of Matt Fisher and Karl Fletcher, as well as the No. 3 team of Ismean Aboubakare and Pierce Stemler. Korber finished it off with a big singles win as CdM surged to the finish.
Ricker said the only other win that would compare, in terms of excitement, was the CdM girls' 10-8 upset at Troy in a Division I semifinal in 2007.
"There's one more when I was at Laguna, but we lost to Beverly Hills, 10-8," he said. "It's a little more fun when you win."
Sage Hill is finally healthy, and that's bad news for opponents in the Division IV playoffs.
The Lightning advanced to their second straight semifinal by squeaking past No. 2-seeded Cate of Carpinteria on games, 80-79. They will play No. 4-seeded Rowland in the semifinals Tuesday, also at The Tennis Club.
Interestingly, Rowland also won its quarterfinal match against defending champion Cerritos by a single game, 76-75, after the match ended deadlocked at nine sets apiece.
Sage Hill Coach A.G. Longoria has seen the return of players like Kurzweil (groin), Alex Koeberle (rotator cuff and back) and Robbe Simon (back) in recent weeks, and it's meant a lot to the Lightning. Koeberle is the team's only senior starter.
Simon, a sophomore, would ordinarily be Sage's No. 2 singles player, but Coach A.G. Longoria said Simon is only cleared to play doubles at this time. He still has to go to physical therapy.
Yet Simon has gone 8-0 in doubles in the playoffs with partner Sean Batten, who teamed so successfully with then-senior Andrew Yun a year ago.
Longoria said his team may match up a bit better with Rowland than it would have with Cerritos.
The Lightning will be trying to make their first CIF final in program history.
"Everything we do from here on out is positive," he said. "We'll go in relaxed [in the semifinals]."