Tars off to a grand start

NEWPORT BEACH —The Newport Harbor High girls' tennis team did anything but slack off over the summer.

Three days a week, the girls practiced in the morning, running up the stairs at Davidson Field. They also ran up hills and performed sprints.

"It was conditioning," senior Riley Mathies said. "And in the afternoon, Monday through Friday, we had tennis practice for three hours a day."

So the Sailors have strong bodies to match their strong start, to which they added a 16-2 rout of Sage Hill School in a nonleague match Tuesday at Newport Harbor High.

Newport Harbor (3-0), which upset Laguna Beach and Woodbridge last week, is off to its best start in Coach Kristen Case's four years. The Tars handed the Lightning (4-1), who are also off to their best start in program history, their first loss.

There was little drama in the match in which the Sailors won all nine of the doubles sets. The No. 1 team of juniors Christina Young and Ricki Archie, as well as the No. 2 team of sophomore Megan Bathen and junior Mindy Wheeler, each won two sets before being subbed out. The sub teams — Holly Hovnanian and Kate Knight, and Kaitlyn Cosenza and Robin Young — were also victorious.

Mathies, who said she has the nickname "Rambo" because "It's more intimidating than Riley," swept at No. 3 doubles with senior teammate Alex Aiello.

"Our coach always tells us, 'You win in practice,' " said Sailors junior Blake Bakkila, who swept at No. 1 singles. "We've been practicing so hard and it came through today."

Freshman Natalie Cernius swept at No. 2 singles for Newport Harbor, and senior Lauren Conway won a set at No. 3 singles as well.

It led to a lot of smiles for Newport Harbor, which led, 6-0, after the first go-round. The Sailors had already clinched the match in the second round, when Sage sophomore Liana Korber rallied from a 5-3 deficit to claim a 7-5 victory over Conway.

"I just think that my girls have a lot of spirit," Case said. "They practice very hard, and they know that most of our matches are won in practice. We make sure to be focused, and know that what we put out in practice is going to show up in our matches. Matches, for us, are really just our time to have fun.

"I truly believe the only way to excel or get anything out of it is to make it 100% about team. When the girls work together and see each other fight hard during practice, they gain respect and they gain trust. They don't want to lose for each other."

Katie Bick had the other victory for Sage, as the Lightning's No. 1 singles player won in her final set of the day. Coach A.G. Longoria said he could see why the Sailors won.

"They're very good," Longoria said. "I think we're a good team, and they took it to us. They just have a nice, deep team in doubles and Coach Case is great at getting people fired up. They were ready to go."

On Thursday, the Sailors play at Corona del Mar in the Battle of the Bay match. Aiello said the team will be ready.

"After this past week and a half, we know where we are and we know we're capable of beating them," she said.

Case was a bit more diplomatic.

"CdM is probably the favorite," she said. "They're a great team. I'm more just focused on us … If we can go in there and fight hard, I'm going to be proud of us regardless."

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