CORONA DEL MAR — The Corona del Mar High girls' tennis team has been running more during practice lately.
No, Coach Brian Ricker hasn't started a brutal conditioning program this late in the season, but the Sea Kings have been running more relay races or laps around the court.
"I told them that every time we run more, we win," Ricker said. "Maybe that gave them more stamina, or just put it in their mind that they've got to stay focused longer, through the second and the third round."
Staying focused was not a problem Tuesday, even as the lineup changed during the key Pacific Coast League match against Northwood.
Corona del Mar was solid throughout, winning 13-5, a must-win if the Sea Kings hope to make the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs.
Northwood (11-3, 4-2 in league) came into the match in second place in league, but CdM (4-7, 3-3) moved closer. The Sea Kings also secured the league finish tiebreaker over the Timberwolves, since the victory was by a greater margin than Northwood's 10-8 win on Sept. 29.
Senior Ariana Naaseh and sophomore Kenzie Purcifull swept at No. 1 doubles for CdM, which is going through a rebuilding year but still improving.
"We've been working hard," Naaseh said. "We've been working more as a team, and I think we really are starting to get our groove on. Even though it's late in the season, we're coming out strong."
The Sea Kings led, 4-2, after the first round, losing the last set on as Northwood's Chloe Pham outlasted CdM's Lauren Thaxter, 6-3, in a battle of sophomores.
Thaxter, CdM's top returning player from last year, missed five weeks earlier this season. She said she has been diagnosed with atypical migraine headaches.
On Tuesday she was playing in her second match back on court, but the condition came up after the loss to Pham and she had to exit after that first set.
"I have a condition that I'm going to have to deal with for the rest of my life," Thaxter said. "I had them earlier today. It's just timing; it's all random. I'm on medication right now, but it won't settle in my blood system until the end of October or early November."
Thaxter stayed at the match. She wanted to come back in during the third round, but players can't re-enter. But she has stayed with a positive attitude during this difficult time.
"She's our inspirational leader and our singles leader," Ricker said. "When she shows up she's a double whammy, especially when we can get her in the lineup. It's a double-positive."
Ricker inserted junior Sophia Chen for Thaxter in the second round. Chen was also a double-positive, winning a pair of sets. He also had to insert Olivia Dajee after freshman Riley Gerdau (sick) won her first set, and Dajee won one of two sets.
Senior Caroline Larsen won twice at No. 2 singles for CdM. Ricker recently moved Larsen to singles and Purcifull to doubles, and the switch has been paying dividends.
CdM junior Olivia Laws and sophomore Kimmia Naaseh won two sets at No. 2 doubles. The No. 3 team of Savannah Thies and partners Hannah Gross and Catherine Keligian — all seniors — won twice. Thies and Keligian outlasted Northwood's Stephanie Shi and Ashley Vu in a tiebreaker in their final set.
"At No. 3 doubles we've used a lot of different girls," Ricker said. "We went with the seniors today, and they stepped up."
CdM will need to continue stepping up if it wants to see the postseason. Only the top three teams from the six-team league are guaranteed playoff berths. Ricker said CdM could miss out on a wild-card since it likely will finish with a sub-.500 overall record.
That's not usually a problem for the CdM girls, who typically are one of the top-ranked teams in Division I and, until last year, had won the league 11 straight years.
"It's more of a struggle, but we're coming together more as a team," Purcifull said. "It's a lot more team bonding."
CdM plays at Irvine on Thursday before another crucial match at home Oct. 25 against Woodbridge. The Warriors came into Tuesday in third place in league at 4-2. They beat CdM, 11-7, in the teams' first meeting.