Sailors on to semis

PLACENTIA — The Newport Harbor High girls' tennis team is not allowing its No. 1 seeding, some nagging injuries, nor its lack of CIF Southern Section championship history to serve as a distraction as it steams toward the culmination of a season that has, thus far, been storybook. But the Sailors gave new meaning to the term single-minded focus in their 16-2 victory at Valencia on Tuesday in the CIF Division II quarterfinals.

Coach Kristin Case's Tars (20-2), who have relied heavily on their strong doubles lineup all fall, won all nine singles sets to dominate the Tigers (16-4).

The win propelled the three-time-defending Sunset League champions into Thursday's semifinals against Arcadia, which won at No. 4-seeded Diamond Bar, 11-7, Tuesday. Thursday's clash, a rematch of a second-round playoff match won by Arcadia last season, is at 2 p.m. at Newport Harbor.

Senior Lauren Conway, playing at No. 3 singles, and freshman Natalie Cernius, playing No. 2, both swept three sets for the winners.

No. 1 singles player Blake Bakkila won two sets, before giving way to Kelsey Christensen, who won her only set to round out the visitors' perfect singles slate.

Cernius, the Sunset League singles runner-up, won 18 of 19 games, while Conway had two 6-0 romps to go with a 6-4 win over Valencia's No. 1 player, Prayerna Uppal.

Newport Harbor swept at No. 2 doubles, with Megan Bathen teaming with Mindy Wheeler in the first two sets, then pairing with Holly Hovnanian to win a third set.

The No. 3 doubles duo of seniors Alex Aiello and Riley Mathies won two of three sets for the Sailors, who received set triumphs from Sunset League doubles champions

Ricki Archie and Christina Young, as well as the substitute combination of Robin Young and Kaitlyn Cosenza.

It was a rare loss for Archie and Christina Young, who fell, 6-2, to Valencia's No. 1 duo of Amelia Yates and Felicia Hsu.

"[Archie and Christina Young] have been incredible this year," Case said of her No. 1 junior duo that had a 42-2 record heading into the CIF playoffs. "You're going to lose a set once in a while. I'm proud of how they bounced back from that. Sometimes, if you are on a long winning streak and you lose, you have a meltdown, and they didn't. They accepted it, moved on and dominated the next set [6-3].

Case also said she was gratified by the play of the rest of her lineup.

"I thought it was great for the rest of the team to get the chance to support [Archie and Christina Young] and pick up the slack for that round," Case said, "because [Archie and Christina Young] have been the ones to always pull off that sweep. It's always a team effort."

Conway, a veteran leader who helps the Sailors maintain exceptional team chemistry, was happy to do her part.

"I think it's good that our doubles can keep us strong," Conway said. "We don't really have one player who is really good; we just have a lot of depth. What has really helped us this year is that we're good, one to three.

Case was pleased to get three wins from Conway and Cernuis.

"It has been a great year for Lauren and I'm so happy for her, because she is such a solid player," Case said. "And, she has been such a great leader for this team. She's a great influence on all the girls.

"And Natalie is rock solid. She gets in her zone and it's really hard to get her out of that zone."

Conway's connection to this team, and her school, is exemplified by the anchor tattoo, about the size of a dime, on her right ankle.

"It has the school spirit to it, so I guess people like it," Conway said of the tattoo, which she and her sister, former Newport Harbor and USC water polo standout Carolyn Conway, both had done on Lauren's 18th birthday in September. "I'm definitely not the typical person to get a tattoo, but it has some meaning behind it."

Conway, who is playing through wrist tendinitis — Case said a handful of other Sailors are also battling tendinitis in their elbow or wrist — said there can be additional meaning to this season.

"This is the best we've done in a really long time [The Tars made the last of their five trips to the section finals, all runner-up showings, in 2001 in Division II]," Conway said. "We just need to really focus on what our team is doing, stay pumped and fired up."

Case said she is fired up to get a rematch with Arcadia.

"I really would like to get revenge from last year," Case said.

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