CORONA DEL MAR — Two standout freshman boys' tennis players have arrived on the Corona del Mar High campus, just like they did in the fall of 2006 on the girls' side.
Before the season began, Coach Brian Ricker compared current freshman boys Chaz Downing and Henry Gordon to Melissa Matsuoka and Hailey Hogan.
It is high praise indeed. Matsuoka and Hogan, who now play at Dartmouth and Johns Hopkins respectively, had standout four-year careers for the Sea Kings girls. They helped CdM win the 2006 Division I title.
Downing and Gordon look like they could also make a big difference for this year's CdM boys, who eased past Laguna Beach, 16-2, in a nonleague match Wednesday.
Downing is ranked No. 5 in the Southern California boys' 14s rankings, and No. 40 nationally. Recently he made it to the finals of a United States Tennis Assn. National Open tournament in Claremont. Gordon is ranked No. 30 in the SoCal 16s.
The two players, along with junior Alec Adamson and sophomore Carson Williams, add up to four very good singles players. That's different than last year, when CdM sometimes struggled in singles after then-senior Shane Korber, now at Georgetown.
CdM (3-0) has certainly started fast.
"In singles, our goal is to fight every single point and wear people down," Ricker said. "We have four good singles players, and all four of them have different personalities on the court. All four of them play a little bit different, but they're willing to keep the ball in play. It's mentally tough on an opponent ... even if they lose 1-6, they're still going to get a lot of balls in play and tire people out. When you play a team that has just one good singles [player] and we have three, it's a big advantage for us."
Gordon missed Wednesday's match due to an ankle injury. CdM still showed its singles depth even after Downing was edged, 6-4, by Laguna's top singles player, Teague Hamilton. It was Downing's first loss of his high school career, but Adamson and Williams each topped Hamilton, 6-3.
"It's definitely a bigger advantage," Adamson said. "Chaz lost that first match, but he still really tired him out for me and Carson ... we're able to be in a lot more matches."
Downing did not play his third set, as Ricker said his knee has been bothering him.
In doubles the Sea Kings just dominated the Breakers (0-3). Seniors Alex Murray and Zach Williams won their three sets, 6-1, 6-0, 6-0. So did the juniors tandem of Paul Kacik and Andrew Nguyen. Sophomore Josh Kliger, a transfer from Marina, also easily won his three sets with partners Dan Anastos and Tyler Gaede. Gaede is another member of CdM's talented freshman class.
Murray, who played at No. 1 doubles last year with graduate Carter Wheatley, has found it easy to play with Williams.
"He's more consistent than I am, and I have my moments of just going crazy," Murray said. "I think that's a good balance. We have good chemistry."
Murray was especially excited after the duo's second set of the day because they achieved a "golden set," winning every single point for the entire set.
Ricker said he needed a golden pen to write the score down. It was one of 10 love sets won by CdM players Wednesday.
The Sea Kings still will be challenged very soon. They play at defending Division II champion Palm Desert on Friday. On Saturday, CdM stays in the desert to play Harvard-Westlake at Rancho Las Palmas Country Club. The Wolverines are the team that eliminated CdM in the Division I quarterfinals last year.
Next week is not easier, with matches against Peninsula and Palos Verdes before the CdM All-American Tournament begins March 16.
Ricker called it a tough eight-day stretch. But the Sea Kings believe they are ready.
"I like those tough matches," Murray said. "It's definitely going to be tiring, but those tough matches get us ready for CIF."