Downing through to final

OJAI — As some of his Corona del Mar High tennis teammates played Frisbee on an adjacent baseball field Saturday, Chaz Downing focused.

When his opponent, Connor Hance of Torrance, questioned his line call midway through the first set and requested an umpire, Downing remained focused.

Those CdM teammates — Alex Murray, Zach Williams and Alec Adamson — hung around a day after they were eliminated to watch Downing in a boys' 14 singles semifinal match at the 112th annual Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament. They yelled out in support of Downing, sometimes calling him by his team nickname, "DJ Chazzy Chaz."

The reason why Downing has that nickname is simple enough.

"It just sounds right," Murray said.

The No. 3-seeded DJ spun quite a victory Saturday at Villanova Preparatory School. Downing upset top-seeded Hance, 6-1, 6-1, to advance to the boys' 14s championship match. Downing will play league rival Arash Hafezi of University, the No. 2 seed, in the title match at 11 a.m. Sunday at Libbey Park South.

Other locals weren't as fortunate. Newport Beach native Mazy Watrous fell in a girls' 18 singles quarterfinal to Sophia Bott of San Clemente, 6-4, 6-3, also at Libbey Park South.

In the junior college ranks, No. 10-seeded Rex Miller and Pat Wright of Orange Coast fell to No. 2 Josh Banks and Parker Kelley of Desert, 6-4, 6-1 in a men's doubles quarterfinal. The Pirates women's duo of Madelyn Koehly and Haley Moss fell to Sophie Angner and Talia Hudson of Santa Barbara, 6-3, 6-2, in another quarterfinal match.

No. 5-seeded Newport Beach resident Thomas Shubert advanced to the open men's semifinals before losing to Peter Lucassen, 6-4, 6-4.

University High junior Gage Brymer captured the CIF singles division for the second straight year by beating Tyler Pham of Rancho Bernardo, 6-3, 6-2, in the championship match. Brymer's Trojan teammates, Stefan Menichella and Drew Dawson, bested Jacob Johnson and Adam Levie of Torrey Pines, 6-3, 6-7, 10-4 in the CIF doubles final.

University won the Griggs Cup, awarded to the high school that earns the most combined wins in CIF singles and doubles, for the third straight year.

Downing's semifinal victory technically was a small upset. Downing is ranked No. 6 in the Southern California 14s and 39th nationally, while Hance is No. 4 in SoCal and 24 nationally. But Ricker said Downing has shown so much improvement during the high school season that he couldn't be too surprised with the lopsided score.

"He's changed from loopier, softer shots, waiting for his opponents to miss," Ricker said. "He still keeps the ball in play, but it's a way more aggressive style of play. Everything's getting much harder — forehand, backhand, serve — and it's because he's gotten to play all these good matches against quality 16- to 18-year-olds.

"For a 14-year-old, it's just a good opportunity to get all this good match play in. His game has changed in the last eight weeks … The last eight weeks have been a crash course for Chaz against older boys, and he's responded really well."

Downing also beat Beau Pelletier of Huntington Beach, 6-0, 6-3, in a quarterfinal match earlier Saturday. Against Hance, he jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first set. In the second set, he was broken serving at 2-0. But Downing quickly responded by winning the last four games of the match.

"I played really well," Downing said. "I think my forehand was doing really good. I tried to keep him on the run."

Downing played his opponent in the final, Hafezi, in the teams' Pacific Coast League match on Tuesday.

"It was 6-2, but it was pretty close," Downing said. "It definitely won't be easy. It's going to be a really tough match."

Watrous, bound for the University of Colorado, also had a tough match against the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo-bound Bott. Watrous, the No. 6 seed, was on serve with No. 4 Bott through the first nine games. But Watrous' serve was broken at 4-5 in the first set.

Bott stormed to a 4-0 lead in the second set before Watrous rallied to get back on serve. However, she was broken in a deuce game, allowing Bott to serve for the match. Bott converted, holding serve in another deuce game to take the tightly contested match.

"I tried my best, for sure," Watrous said. "She had a good day. I could have done a lot of things better, but that's why you learn from a loss."

Watrous, who was home-schooled before playing at El Toro High last fall as a senior, was the Sea View League singles champion. She verbally committed to Colorado last July, signed in November and has been getting ready to play college tennis. She said she's put in long hours at the gym getting as fit as possible, and last month she played her way into the main draw of an ITF event in Claremont.

At Ojai, where thePac-12Tournament is taking place, Watrous got to be in the presence of her future Buffaloes teammates. She said this was her third time playing at "The Ojai," and making it to the quarterfinals is her best result.

"I love the tournament," Watrous said. "I just haven't had too much success here, but that's OK. That can change; I'll be here next year for thePac-12Tournament."

Twitter: @mjszabo

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