Tandem sparked CdM's rise

One has a background in horseback riding, and one in sailing.

When Corona del Mar High seniors Kalika Slevcove and Morgan McVey started playing tennis four or five years ago, they relied on their good hand-eye coordination to help them out. Still, these aren't the girls who had a racket in their hands from the time they could walk.

"We're playing catch-up," Slevcove said.

But this year the opponents usually say the same thing.

Slevcove and McVey evolved into a reliable doubles team this year for the Sea Kings, whose season ended Thursday with a loss to top-seeded Campbell Hall in the CIF Southern Section Division I semifinals. Two days prior, Slevcove and McVey won two of three sets as CdM upset Peninsula, 12-6, to reach its 12th straight semifinal.

Slevcove and McVey, who had a 17-3 record prior to the Campbell Hall match, took different paths to this point. Slevcove's been riding a horse since before she can remember, which is what happens when you live up on a ranch on the edge of the Back Bay and your family owns multiple horses. She had her first horse show when she was just 18 months old.

She also grew up playing volleyball like her father, Mark, who competed at UCLA. Kalika played club at Orange County Volleyball Club, but that ended when she was just 5-foot-2 as a freshman.

"I was too short to play volleyball," Slevcove said. "On our team, even the libero's like 6-foot."

Tennis was a quick fit for Slevcove. She was the top player on the frosh-soph team her freshman year and won the Pacific Coast League junior varsity singles title her sophomore year.

Right after that year, about two years ago now, was when McVey left the team to train at Advantage Tennis Academy in Irvine. She still went to school at CdM, but she spent three hours a day hitting at Advantage. Still, she came back to the team this year because she knew she didn't want to miss her senior year.

"Tennis is obviously an individual sport, but I like the team aspect of it," McVey said. "It's been a lot of fun to come back, but I think it was also good for me to take that [time] off."

Slevcove started the year in singles. She set herself up to play singles this year for CdM, working hard over the summer by playing in 13 tournaments. She said she made at least the semifinals in nearly every one.

"At the beginning of the summer, my dad said, 'If you want to go to the college of your choice, you better kick it up a notch,' " Slevcove said.

McVey started the year playing doubles with Erica Lewis, but she said that team had mixed results. It was a tough situation for CdM Coach Brian Ricker, not used to losing so many sets in doubles.

"I feel like for the last four years he's had legit doubles teams," McVey said. "They were just set, like married. This year he had to put them together again."

Both Slevcove and McVey have dealt with injuries this year, so maybe it makes sense they'd end up together. McVey hurt her back while skiing in January and had to take a couple months off from tennis, and also dealt with a thumb injury she suffered while surfing. For Slevcove, it was a left wrist injury two weeks ago while playing tennis that's forced her to go to a one-handed backhand.

Whatever it was, CdM Coach Brian Ricker said the chemistry was obvious when McVey and Slevcove were put together. That pairing helped the Sea Kings, as there was now less pressure to sweep on singles players like Purdue-bound senior Lynda Xepoleas or sophomore Nini Ugrelidze.

"I put [McVey and Slevcove] together and it was just an obvious click," Ricker said. "It's really nice for a coach and the players when something like that happens. They didn't need my coaching. In fact, I didn't want to go out and talk to them, because I was afraid I was going to mess them up. What they were doing was working. Morgan has the really good ground strokes, and Kalika, it's really clicked for her at the net."

Slevcove became more aggressive at the net, Ricker said, after she finally heeded a tactical suggestion.

"Kelli Feeley was the best I've ever seen at turning and running," Ricker said. "No matter how far away it was, she could keep going. Kalika would sidestep, so she could only go this far. She finally figured out how to turn a little bit and go, and now she can go back and forth. I've always said, 'Kalika, we need you roaming around the net, not just waiting for them to hit it to you.' The overheads and the high volleys are what she's so good at. Her overhead scares girls, and Morgan's ground strokes set her up just right."

Now the latecomers to tennis are thinking about playing the sport in college. UC Irvine is the first choice for Slevcove, who has a 3.77 grade-point average. McVey, who carries a 4.1 GPA, said she'd like to play at UC San Diego.

They suffered a three-set marathon loss to a University team in the Pacific Coast League semifinals, leaving Slevcove and McVey one match shy of qualifying for CIF Individuals. Ricker said if they'd made it, in some years he could have seen them go all the way to the Individuals semifinals in Seal Beach.

But Slevcove and McVey put that in the past and kept going. They have shown the toughness needed to compete at a high level.

Playing tennis may not have been as natural to them as riding a horse or manning a Sabot boat, but they're glad they picked up a racket.

"We're both singles players that kind of got put together," McVey said. "It works."

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