NEWPORT BEACH — As afternoon turned into evening and the lights came on at the Newport Harbor High tennis courts, a sister act broke out.
It was the last doubles round of Thursday's nonleague match against Palos Verdes Peninsula. Newport Harbor senior twins Christina and Robin Young were locked in a close set against Peninsula senior Brianna Kemp and her younger sister Cara.
The Young sisters pulled the set out, dominating in a tiebreaker as their teammates got fired up. Anyone who arrived at that moment wouldn't have known that it was the only doubles set the Sailors would win, as Peninsula posted a 13-5 victory.
Peninsula co-coach Tom Cox said the programs probably hadn't played in eight to 10 years. Usually when his team comes to Newport Beach, it's to play Corona del Mar.
Sailors Coach Kristen Case said she definitely saw positives as her team fell to the Division I powerhouse.
"Peninsula is such a great team," Case said. "They're a top team in Division I. You only get better playing the best, and that was the goal of our [matches before league begins]. [We wanted] to put all of the best teams possible up against us, so we could just learn and get better every week. I think my girls did a phenomenal job today … we're definitely making the right progress."
Things seem to be looking up for the Sailors (2-1). They were already plenty good before, as Newport Harbor won its third straight Sunset League title in 2010 and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division II championship match for the first time in nine years.
Case said her team is still "much better" this year. When told of that prognosis, her players nodded in agreement.
"I definitely think we're better," said Christina Young, who now plays with her sister at No. 1 doubles after the departure of her partner from last year, Ricki Archie. "We worked and trained so much harder this summer than we ever have. We're very strong throughout. You can't tell the difference between our No. 1 and No. 3 in singles or doubles."
To tell the difference between the Young sisters while they're playing, know that Christina — team nickname "X" — wears a blue cap. Robin — or "Dogger" — wears a white visor.
"She saw an opportunity open up for herself, and she's worked extremely hard," Case said of Robin Young, a doubles substitute last year. "She got herself up in that top spot, and she's completely earned it by hard work and dedication. She's put a lot of hours in."
Senior Mindy Wheeler and her partner, junior Megan Bathen, also return, as do two of three singles starters in senior Blake Bakkila and sophomore Natalie Cernius. The newcomer at No. 3 singles is freshman Annie Radeva. She's the younger sister of Nelly Radeva, who played for the Sailors her senior year of 2008-09 and now plays at Vanderbilt.
With these weapons, plus doubles players like Holly Hovnanian, Kaitlyn Cosenza and Kate Knight who return with another year of experience, the Sailors again expect to be ranked near the top of Division II when the first polls come out next week.
But Peninsula (4-0) was too strong on Thursday, clinching the match after two rounds despite missing its top singles player, freshman Kenadi Hance. Panthers' sophomore Annika Ringblom swept at No. 1 singles with a trio of 6-1 sets. Sophomore Jasmine Hosseini gutted out a pair of close sets over Cernius (6-4) and Radeva (7-5).
The doubles teams of Victoria Tam and Risa Nakagawa, as well as Sanjana Shah and Sachi Carlson, both swept for Peninsula. The Kemp sisters took two of three sets.
"[Before league begins] we just have to look at it as another step forward," said Bakkila, who won twice in singles for Harbor. "[This loss] is not something that should hold us back. All of these matches are just building us up into [league], and eventually CIF. We're just looking to improve right now. All of these [Peninsula] girls were really good. They were good people to hit with."
Cernius and Radeva won a set each.
Peninsula was possibly the best team Newport will play all year. That's taking nothing away from the team that visits the Sailors on Thursday, Back Bay rival CdM.
The Sea Kings have beaten the Sailors, 13-5, each of the past three years. With Newport Harbor's experience and CdM's relative youth, this year's match could be more tightly contested.
"We have a lot of goals, and beating CdM is one of the big ones," Bakkila said. "I've literally been dreaming about it since freshman year, and probably before then."
Her teammates laughed, but the 2011 Sailors are no joke.