CORONA DEL MAR — A largely inexperienced Corona del Mar High girls' tennis team has gained that experience throughout the season.
The Sea Kings, who returned just two starters from a year ago, have shown improvement throughout the second half of their Pacific Coast League schedule.
It probably still won't be enough to make the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs.
CdM lost a key league match at home to Woodbridge on Tuesday, falling on games, 76-72. The result, along with Northwood's win over Irvine on games, all but eliminated CdM from playoff contention for the first time in recent memory.
"Is it ever?" CdM Coach Brian Ricker said, unsure of the last time CdM failed to make the playoffs.
Corona del Mar (5-8, 4-4 in league) takes pride in its success; the program has advanced to at least the CIF semifinals for 12 straight years. But the Sea Kings likely won't get a chance to extend the streak after falling behind second-place Northwood (6-2 in league) and third-place Woodbridge (5-3) with two matches left.
The top three teams in the six-team league are guaranteed berths. CdM, which owns the tiebreaker over Northwood but not over Woodbridge, would be eliminated with a loss to defending champion University on Thursday. The Sea Kings also are ineligible for an at-large berth because they'll finish with a sub-.500 overall record.
"There's no question we've gotten better," Ricker said. "As a coach, even if we don't make the playoffs, at least we have a team that has improved throughout the season. We had such a hard early nonleague season. We were 2-7 at one point, and that's hard on a CdM tennis team mentally. But they didn't get down. Ever since then, we've gotten better. All the girls have improved."
They showed it in Tuesday's match, bettering their result from their 11-7 loss to Woodbridge on Oct. 6. The No. 1 doubles team of senior Ariana Naaseh and sophomore Kenzie Purcifull continued its recent strong play, sweeping, 7-5, 7-6, 6-3.
Naaseh and Purcifull are 11-0 in CdM's last four matches, and 24-5 on the season.
How close was Tuesday's match? The Sea Kings were tied, 3-3, after a round and 6-6 after two rounds. The games count at that point was 50-49, Woodbridge.
With two doubles sets still on, the sets (8-8) and games (64-64) were both tied. But Woodbridge's No. 1 doubles team of Danielle Caro and Jenny Leong provided some separation. They defeated CdM's No. 3 team of Megan Hawkins and Kimmia Naaseh, 6-1.
Ariana Naaseh and Purcifull then defeated Woodbridge's Camille Mejia and Nicole Millado in a tiebreaker, but CdM was just short on games.
Woodbridge Coach Ric Barth congratulated CdM on a great match. His Warriors were also helped immensely by freshman Stephanie Hazell, who swept, 6-0, 6-0, 6-0, at No. 1 singles.
But CdM sophomore Lauren Thaxter and freshman Riley Gerdau each won two of three singles sets to help the Sea Kings stay close.
"I think the singles did really well, and the doubles also did really well," said Gerdau, the team's lone freshman. "If we could have just squeezed in a couple of more games, we could have pulled together and won it."
The doubles teams of Savannah Thies and Kimmia Naaseh, as well as Skylar Dapp and Olivia Dajee, each won a set each for CdM.
But both teams lost close sets to Mejia and Millado, helping swing the match toward Woodbridge.
CdM also was missing doubles player Olivia Laws, out with a stomach ailment.
"Today, I think we got a little unlucky," Ricker said.