Corona del Mar still owns bay

CORONA DEL MAR — The Corona del Mar High girls' tennis team is down three courts this fall, as construction has left the Sea Kings with just five on-campus courts.

On Thursday afternoon, the Sea Kings were also down a player. It happened to be their best, Lynda Xepoleas, who also happens to be one of the best players in the state and the country.

Xepoleas, the Purdue commit, usually plays No. 1 singles for the Sea Kings. But singles still were no problem against Back Bay rival Newport Harbor.

CdM swept in singles for the second straight match and went on to win, 13-5, in the Battle of the Bay.

"We've got really good players, and we're all really confident," said senior Kalika Slevcove, who swept at No. 2 singles. "We knew we had a really good chance of winning, of sweeping today."

Sophomore Nini Ugrelidze and freshman Lauren Thaxter also swept in singles, making up for the absence of Xepoleas, ranked No. 8 in the nation in girls' 18 singles by the United States Tennis Assn.

Coach Brian Ricker said Xepoleas had the day off. That's what happens when you have a varsity team that includes 15 seniors, at least in Ricker's system: everyone receives days off. So Xepoleas spent Thursday training privately instead of playing with CdM (2-0).

Ricker said he circled the matches on the schedule Xepoleas had to play during the year. The Sailors (4-1) weren't one of those matches.

"It's not out of disrespect to Newport Harbor," Ricker said. "The other seniors want to play. [Xepoleas] doesn't really understand the rivalry … Thaxter's so strong; we're lucky to have someone like that who we can move into singles. She's going to be a good high school player. She's so good defensively, and her backhand is deceivingly hard and good and difficult to read. She has the makings of a very solid, four-year varsity player."

The Sailors, who themselves have had a strong start to the season, at least made it interesting early. Corona del Mar led, 4-2, after the first go-round, but only after winning a couple of tight sets.

Ugrelidze rallied, winning the last four games to beat Newport Harbor No. 1 Blake Bakkila, 7-5. At No. 3 doubles, juniors Caroline Larsen and Ariana Naaseh nearly lost a lead but hung on for a 6-4 win over the Sailors' Alex Aiello and Riley Mathies.

"We could have been down 4-2 pretty easily," Ricker said.

CdM finished strong, however. The CdM No. 1 doubles team of Alison Ishii and Mackenzie Ludlow won a set before being subbed out. The other two doubles sets were won by the all-senior sub teams of Morgan McVey and Alicia Ginsberg, as well as Emily Altieri and Jessica Yi.

Ricker said he is still trying to work on his team's doubles strength. This year, the Sea Kings appear stronger in singles, although Ishii and Thaxter provide a solid doubles team when Xepoleas is playing.

Newport Harbor's No. 1 doubles team of Christina Young and Ricki Archie swept Thursday, providing a highlight for the Sailors. They saved five set points in their opening win over Ishii and Ludlow.

"I think my girls came out and did what they needed to do," Newport Harbor Coach Kristen Case said. "They fought hard for every point, they exhausted kind of all the possiblities in their sets. I said, 'If you have to make adjustments, make adjustments,' and they did that. They fought hard and they gave 100%, and I'm proud of them."

But, as often is the case in this rivalry, to the victor goes the bragging rights.

"It really pumps us up to still hold power over the other side of the bay," Slevcove said.

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