'Nervous' Xepoleas falls

SEAL BEACH — Corona del Mar High senior Lynda Xepoleas got off to a slow start Friday morning at the Seal Beach Tennis Center.

Sabrina Santamaria made sure the match was over quick.

Xepoleas' run in the CIF Southern Section Individuals singles tournament came to a screeching halt in the semifinals as she lost to the Campbell Hall of North Hollywood senior, 6-0, 6-1, in a match that took only about 50 minutes.

Santamaria went on to defeat top-seeded Woodbridge freshman Mayo Hibi, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2, in the championship match.

Xepoleas was seeded No. 2 and Santamaria was not seeded among the top four players, but she's still ranked No. 12 in Southern California in the girls' 18s. Xepoleas is ranked No. 5 in Southern California in the girls' 18s.

CdM Coach Brian Ricker knew the USC-bound Santamaria was a matchup problem, able to play good defense against the big forehand of the Purdue-bound Xepoleas.

"Santamaria really seemed to like Lynda's style of play," Ricker said. "I knew there was a mental block, and the mental block comes from playing someone and realizing they have the answer to your game. Santamaria is an especially good defender, and there's so much pressure on Lynda to make big shots. It forces Lynda to go for extra."

Santamaria showed she could play offense too, breezing out to a 3-0 lead in the first set like she did when she beat Xepoleas, 6-3, in the Division I team semifinals on Nov. 18.

The fourth game of the set was closer. With Santamaria serving, it went to five deuces, and Xepoleas had three break points.

But Santamaria held and closed out the first set with ease.

"I could tell that she was a little bit nervous in the beginning," said Santamaria, who helped lead Campbell Hall to its second straight Division I team title. "I just tried to be steady and have her miss the first shot. In that [fourth] game it was really tricky, because sometimes I lose concentration. I guess I was lucky enough to get back into the concentrating state of mind."

Santamaria broke Xepoleas' serve to open the second set. Xepoleas held in her second service game of the set to pull within 2-1, but Santamaria won the next four games.

Xepoleas wore a pink tennis dress. Obviously, she wasn't tickled pink with her quick exit.

"She played smart and I just didn't play my best today," Xepoleas said. "My feet weren't moving, and I was nervous. I'm not sure I was nervous going into the match, but I just really wanted to do well. I wanted to have a good experience."

Ricker said Xepoleas usually makes other girls nervous with her power game, not the other way around.

"I don't think it was because of the event," he said. "I think it was more because of playing Santamaria before. The big shots are what [Santamaria] likes. She's OK with those shots."

Santamaria proved it in the final by outlasting Hibi, the No. 2 ranked freshman in the country by tennisrecruiting.net, in the championship match. That was after her Campbell Hall teammates, Valerie Thong and Zoe Katz, won their second straight CIF Individuals title. The top-seeded Thong and Katz defeated the Thousand Oaks tandem of Savannah Ware and Alison Ho in the final.

Campbell Hall is just the second team in Southern Section history to win the "triple crown" of the CIF Individuals singles and doubles championships, as well as the team title, in the same year. The first was Peninsula, which did it in 1992 and 1993.

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