Girls' Tennis: Tandem bolsters CdM

Corona del Mar High girls' tennis coach Brian Ricker has never coached a player like Lynda Xepoleas.

Lauren Thaxter wants to carve out a great career as a Sea King as well.

Ricker announced that the Sea Kings have added two key transfers who will be enrolling at CdM and playing for the Sea Kings in the fall.

Xepoleas, who had attended a tennis academy in Ojai, will be a senior. Thaxter, from Fresno, will be a freshman.

Both clearly have the game to help CdM. Xepoleas is ranked No. 11 nationally in girls' 18 singles by the United States Tennis Assn.

"I've never had a player ranked this high," said Ricker, adding he will be coaching his first player ranked in the top 10 in Southern California in the 18s. Xepoleas is ranked No. 5.

"She has a big serve, big forehand," Ricker said. "It's a huge advantage [having a player ranked that high]. It completely changes the complexion of the match if you have a player who you really feel like lets you starts the match [up] 3-0."

Xepoleas, who has verbally committed to Purdue, is also the No. 4 seed in the division for the Southern California Junior Sectionals, which begin Saturday at Los Caballeros Racquet & Sports Club in Fountain Valley.

Xepoleas is moving from Ojai, where she has trained at the Weil Academy. She won the girls' 18 singles title at the prestigious Ojai Valley tournament in April.

Her sister, Meredith, is going into the eighth grade and is ranked No. 16 in Southern California in girls' 14s. Ricker said she is not attending CdM next year, however, and will be training at the USTA development center in Carson.

Thaxter is an accomplished junior player from Fresno. She has moved to Orange County after a divorce in the family and her mother, Jayne, said she found Corona del Mar as a good tennis program.

Thaxter has been playing in the 16s since earning her No. 1 ranking in the Northern California 14s last summer, even though she just turned 14 in February. She is ranked No. 23 in the NorCal 16s.

Last summer, she was third in the 14s at the Northern California Junior Sectionals.

"It's a much different game now," she said. "It's a lot more hard-hitting, which I prefer."

She said she looks forward to the increased competition level that Southern California will provide. In Fresno, she said the high schools don't stack up to successful Orange County programs like Corona del Mar, which made three straight CIF Southern Section Division I championship matches from 2006-08.

They may not have been coached by Ricker, but the Sea Kings have had distinguished singles players in the past. Three times they've won the CIF singles individual title (Keri Phebus in 1988 and '89 and Brittany Reitz in 2000). Phebus went on to become the most dominant women's tennis player in UCLA history and is in the Bruins' Athletics Hall of Fame.

Ricker said his top singles players for next year should be Xepoleas, Thaxter, senior Kalika Slevcove and sophomore Nini Ugrelidze. They will try to ease the blow of losing two mainstays of the program, Melissa Matsuoka and Hailey Hogan, to graduation. Sophomore Alison Ishii is a top returning doubles player, although CdM also lost its top doubles team, Kelli Feeley and Azadeh Nazemi, to graduation.

Thaxter has a powerful backhand, which she calls her favorite stroke, and is poised on the court. This summer, she plans to play tournaments around the area to get a feel for Southern California.

"I'm really excited," she said. "I'm going to like it a lot."

The Sea Kings, in turn, should like their new teammates as well.

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