CdM falls in semis

VALLEY GLEN — Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were still untainted home-run heroes the last time the Corona del Mar High girls' tennis team failed to reach at least the CIF Southern Section semifinals.

The Sea Kings (18-6) needed a quarterfinal upset of No. 4-seeded Peninsula to extend the streak of semifinal appearances to 12 straight seasons this year, rendering Coach Brian Ricker's squad as recurrent as regret experienced by the steroid-era sluggers.

"It's a great streak," Ricker said after a 14-4 loss to top-seeded Campbell Hall in the CIF Southern Section Division I semifinals Thursday at Los Angeles Valley College.

The loss ended the season for the Sea Kings (18-6), while the Vikings (17-0) advance to the title match Monday in hopes of securing their second straight Division I crown, their fifth section championship in the last five years. The North Hollywood-based private school won Division III titles in 2003 and 2004, and topped the Division II field in 2007.

"We were talking about the streak the other day and someone said CdM is the bellwether," Ricker said. "We're always here [in the semifinals] and the other schools come and go. Recently, it was Dana Hills and prior to that it was Troy.

The last two years, Campbell Hall has been involved [in Division I] and now University is also here. The constant has basically been CdM. That's something to be proud of."

Ricker said he was also proud of this team, the 23-player roster of which included 15 seniors.

"I thought we had a great season and it was especially nice to see a team that clearly improved as the season went on," Ricker said. "That Peninsula match [a 12-6 win Tuesday that avenged a 13-5 nonleague loss to the Panthers on Sept. 28] was obviously a highlight. I thought we had a really bad draw, but we played great against Tesoro and Troy [in first- and second-round triumphs, respectively]. And the last time we played [Pacific Coast League champion] Uni, it was 9-9 [CdM lost on games]. So, what else can you ask from the girls, except to improve?"

Senior Lynda Xepoleas, who did not play in the Sea Kings' 14-4 nonleague loss to Campbell Hall on Sept. 23, was supposed to greatly improve the visitors' chances for an upset Thursday.

The Purdue-bound Xepoleas, ranked No. 5 in Southern California and No. 9 in the nation in the girls' 18s, asserted herself early. She handled future Big Ten rival Sarah Lee, a senior bound for Michigan, 6-2, in a battle of No. 1 singles rivals.

But USC-bound senior Sabrina Santamaria, who along with Lee won the CIF doubles title in 2008, topped Xepoleas, 6-3, before the first-year CdM standout hit the freeway to try to beat commuter traffic back to Orange County in preparation for a run in the CIF Individuals that begin today at 9 a.m. at University High.

CdM swept the Vikings' No. 3 doubles team, including a 6-0 win by the Sea Kings' No. 3 tandem of junior Caroline Larsen and Alison Ishii.

Seniors Kalika Slevcove and Morgan McVey, CdM's No. 2 team, posted a 6-3 doubles win, while the No. 3 duo of senior Piper Bledsoe and freshman McKenzie Purcifull claimed a 7-6 (7-3) win in the final set of the match.

"[The Vikings] have a lot of talent and they have it in key positions," Ricker said of a Campbell Hall squad that includes defending CIF doubles champions Valerie Thong and Zoe Katz, who won 18 of 20 games Thursday.

Vikings Coach Steve Kueshel said CdM isn't the only team that had improved since the last time the two teams met.

"We're peaking right now," Kueshel said. "We really played well."

Kueshel said those who have termed his squad a Dream Team, have justification.

"I had a Dream Team my first year [2003] when we went undefeated, but this team exceeds that," Kueshel said.

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