Sailors adapt, advance

ARCADIA — The Newport Harbor High girls' tennis team has always relied on teamwork to get the job done.

In the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs, the Sailors have had to display that teamwork in a very tangible way.

Senior team captain Blake Bakkila is currently unable to play at No. 1 singles due to a sprained right ankle suffered at Sunset League finals. Newport Harbor brought in sophomore Kate Knight off the bench to play singles.

Bakkila has virtually become an extra coach for the Sailors, encouraging the team more than ever. Knight has been playing some of her best tennis of the season.

The Sailors just keep on rolling.

They swept in doubles Tuesday to beat Arcadia, 14-4, in a Division II quarterfinal match at Arcadia High. No. 3-seeded Newport Harbor (19-1) will play at No. 2 San Marino in Thursday's semifinals. San Marino beat Santa Monica, 11-5.

Thursday's semifinal is a rematch of last year's Division II final, won by San Marino.

Coach Kristen Case said Bakkila, who is off crutches but whose ankle remains swollen, is day-to-day. But she said she's confident with whatever lineup she puts out there for the Sailors, who have won 17 straight matches.

"The team aspect is so big with this group, and everybody steps into the role they need to play," Case said. "Kate's doing a phenomenal job on the court, and 'Blakers' is taking her role as captain and leader by going out and playing the role of coach. She's using her eyes to help out her teammates. Right now she doesn't have the ability to use her racket, but what she does have is her eyes and her voice."

Case watched the Sailors win some momentum-changing sets Tuesday at Arcadia. It was the third straight year the Sailors had faced the Apaches in the playoffs. Arcadia (21-1) knocked off Newport in the second round in 2009, while the Sailors won last year in the semifinals.

The best place to watch the action at Arcadia is at the top of the bleachers on the south end of the football stadium. A large contingent watched Newport's No. 3 doubles team of Holly Hovnanian and Kaitlyn Cosenza overcome a 3-0 deficit in the first round to defeat Arcadia's Elizabeth Lieu and Shana Mofarrah, 6-3.

"Kristen always tells us, 'In any circumstance you have to adjust at some point,'" Cosenza said. "I think we just adjusted. We pulled two back, which really helped, because then we were able to be a wall and come in together. We just thought that it doesn't matter what the score is. We're just going to come back."

The rally helped give the Sailors a 4-2 lead after the first round. They exploded from there, winning five sets in the second round to put a stranglehold on the match.

Hovnanian and Cosenza swept for the second straight playoff match. The No. 1 team of senior twins Christina and Robin Young, as well as the No. 2 team of senior Mindy Wheeler and junior Megan Bathen, also swept for Newport Harbor.

Then there were the heroics from sophomore Natalie Cernius at No. 2 singles. In the second round she rallied from a 5-0 deficit to tie Arcadia senior Nadia Pacheco-Amaro, 5-5, before Pacheco-Amaro had to retire due to leg cramping.

"That's something about this team," Cernius said. "We can always find a way to come back. We're so resilient, and that's a big thing that Kristen has taught us to be."

With the match clinched by then, Arcadia Coach Jerry Dohling decided to forfeit two remaining singles matches. Despite a singles sweep by junior Francis Dean, Arcadia was eliminated by Newport Harbor for the second straight year after an undefeated regular season.

Knight and Sailors freshman Annie Radeva each won singles sets for Newport Harbor, as every player won at least once.

Pacheco-Amaro, for one, definitely noticed the Sunset League champions' positivity and teamwork.

"They're a really good team," Pacheco-Amaro said. "They mentally were, I guess, stronger than we were. They cheer a lot, and that really affects how they play sometimes. They have a lot of supporters, and we don't have as many. We don't deal with that as much. Whenever they come out here and they're constantly being very upbeat, it really conflicts with our way of playing. Honestly, I think that was the key difference, apart from them being a good team."

The Sailors want to keep their good thing going. Case has confidence that her players will continue to step up in big moments.

"Kate's very ready to go out there and get the wins that we need," Case said. "That's another thing about our team, our depth. I have 100% confidence in her that she was going to go out and get the job done. And I feel like that with every member on this team, that they can go out there and get the job done.

"The two things that I feel like defines them is their resilience and their positivity."

Twitter: @mjszabo

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