Tars' turn to rule Bay

NEWPORT BEACH — One goal down for the Newport Harbor High girls' tennis team, two to go.

That one goal sure felt good to the Sailors on Thursday at their home courts.

The Battle of the Bay turned into more of a massacre early on. Nothing was going to stop Newport Harbor from beating rival Corona del Mar for the first time since 1999.

The Sailors opened up a 12-0 lead after two rounds and cruised, 15-3. Coach Kristen Case said the next two goals in the coming weeks are to win their fourth straight Sunset League title and the CIF Southern Section Division II championship.

Nobody could doubt the determination of Newport Harbor (5-1) in the opening round against CdM. Senior Blake Bakkila, sophomore Natalie Cernius and freshman Annie Radeva all "bageled" their opponents, 6-0. Doubles was only slightly more taxing, as the No. 1 team of senior twins Christina and Robin Young won, 6-2, as did the No. 2 team of senior Mindy Wheeler and junior Megan Bathen.

The No. 3 doubles team of senior Holly Hovnanian and junior Kaitlyn Cosenza earned another bagel, 6-0. The last set score was the same as the match score after the round, as it was clear who was the stronger team.

"Going into this match, I told them we couldn't be more ready," Case said. "It was just their time to go out and shine. You saw the first round — they showed up. All of their hard work and their dedication, and what I would call their championship character, just came out in full force today."

CdM had owned the Battle of the Bay after the teams resumed playing it in 2008. The last time Newport Harbor won the rivalry match 12 years ago, it was Case helping to lead the charge as a senior playing doubles with Jenny Meyer. The score was similar, 16-2.

After Thursday's victory she said she felt happiest for this year's seniors, a group that includes Bakkila, the Young sisters, Wheeler, Hovnanian and Cece Beck.

"I can remember what it felt like to experience something like this, and I'm just so happy that they get to experience this," Case said. "They deserve it."

Bakkila relished the moment. She stayed in all three rounds, collecting 6-0, 6-2 and 6-0 victories. The moment she said she'd been dreaming about since her freshman year had arrived.

"They've always had such a strong program," Bakkila said of the Sea Kings. "It's kind of an indescribable feeling to beat someone who everyone says is 'that' team. I feel like this match is definitely setting a tone for the rest of our season."

Cernius and Radeva each won twice in singles. The Young sisters swept in doubles, as did Hovnanian and partners Cosenza and Kelsey Christiansen. Wheeler and Bathen won twice before Bathen was subbed out.

It was a dominant effort across the board for Newport Harbor, ranked No. 2 in Division II. The Sailors handed CdM Coach Brian Ricker his worst loss, in terms of final score, in his eight years at the school.

"A major thing we've been working on is our confidence," Wheeler said. "For me, I was 100% confident coming in here. We knew exactly what we needed to do, and we accomplished that."

Corona del Mar (1-3) is not ranked in the CIF polls for the first time in recent memory. Ricker does the Division I poll, but he knows his team isn't in the top 10 at the moment.

The Sea Kings are young; against Newport Harbor they started sophomore McKenzie Purcifull and freshmen Riley Gerdau and Shelby Anderson in singles. The team's top player, sophomore Lauren Thaxter, is still out sick, though she came to the Battle of the Bay to cheer on her teammates.

Two standout juniors are also no longer with CdM. Ricker said doubles player Alison Ishii decided not to play this year, and singles player Nini Ugrelidze moved out of the district. But he gave credit to the Sailors, who were even better than he anticipated.

"I told [my players] 10 months ago that we need to work hard or else we're in danger of losing to Harbor," Ricker said. "And that was with Thaxter and Ishii in the lineup. They didn't want to hear that 10 months ago, but I already saw the writing on the wall coming. We just have had incredible turnover, in every possible way. We have a lot of young kids that are getting better. We'll just keep working hard and try and get in the playoffs."

Purcifull and Anderson each won singles sets in the third round against Newport Harbor substitutes. The other win came in doubles in the third round, when seniors Savannah Thies and Catherine Keligian outlasted Wheeler and Beck, 7-5.

The Sailors cheered as loudly for their teammates in that last round as they did in the first round. With this group, that feels like the point.

"It's almost as though they want it more for each other than themselves," Case said. "That's when you really know you've hit the jackpot. They're very special, so I'm honored to get to practice and work with them, and experience this with them."


Twitter: @mjszabo

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World