Third title in works

SEAL BEACH — Every day around lunchtime, Kristen Case sends her Newport Harbor High girls' tennis team some food for thought.

Case texts her players an inspirational saying.

"Desire is the most important factor in the success of any athlete," was Thursday's quote, credited to the late American horse racing jockey Bill Shoemaker.

And, after a 16-2 win over Los Alamitos at Seal Beach Tennis Center, the Sailors clearly find themselves in pole position for their third straight Sunset League title.

It's all coming together for the Sailors, ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Division II coaches' poll. Newport Harbor (11-2, 3-0 in league) used singles sweeps by junior Blake Bakkila and senior Lauren Conway, as well as a doubles sweep by the senior duo of Alex Aiello and Riley Mathies.

Natalie Cernius, as well as the doubles teams of Christina Young-Ricki Archie and Mindy Wheeler-Megan Bathen, each won two sets before they were subbed out.

The Griffins (3-4, 1-1) have been the toughest competition in league. They were the only team to beat the Sailors last year. Two years ago, they took the Sailors to games in both meetings before Newport Harbor prevailed.

On Thursday, though, there was little question who was the dominant team.

"I really want to credit the girls," Case said. "This is such a great group of girls. They're so dedicated to their sport, and also to their academics. They're a smart group; they're just a good group of girls to work with. The biggest thing is trust. They all can trust one another, and I think that's a huge element to a winning team. They trust each other and I trust them; it's a great exchange."

Archie and Young have been rock-solid at No. 1 doubles. The juniors' two wins against Los Alamitos bumped their record as partners this year to 30-2. Young said they work well when she is back and Archie, who stands nearly 6-foot-1, is at the net.

Archie credited Case for the improvement the tandem has shown. She knows what it takes; Case and Audra Adams advanced to the CIF Individuals doubles final in 1998, and Case and Jenny Meyer made the Individuals semis in '99.

"Before we came on varsity, doubles was very vague," Archie said. "We were good, but Kristen really helped improve our games so much. The work ethic, the positivity. The main thing she's instilled in us is that you have to put work in to achieve something."

Newport took a 12-0 lead after two rounds against Los Alamitos. Griffins Coach Debbie Fleming didn't offer up any excuses.

"We lost three dominant players from last year, but that's not really an excuse," Fleming said. "I mean, Harbor, they're a good team. They're solid from one to nine. I was proud of my kids because they never gave up and they had good sportsmanship, but we were outplayed today."

Even when Case put some subs in there was reason for encouragement. The doubles team of Kaitlyn Cosenza and Robin Young outlasted Los Alamitos' sister team of Tina and Eleni Sehremelis, 7-5, in the last set completed in the match.

The set was a rematch of last year's Sunset League junior varsity doubles championship, won by the Sehremelis sisters.

None of the Sailors watching that last set could have been too surprised. Newport Harbor is deep as well.

"The girls worked so hard in the preseason and over the summer," Case said. "It's so rewarding and nice to see the improvement they've made, and to see it show up on the court now. It's a testament to their hard work and their dedication, and their commitment to each other."

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