CORONA DEL MAR — Sophia Chen spent roughly half of the season on varsity last year for the Corona del Mar High girls' tennis team, alternating between that and JV.
Chen said she did not play when the Sea Kings got blown out last year by Newport Harbor. It might not be a stretch to say the loss, CdM's first in the Battle of the Bay since 1999, sent shockwaves through the entire program.
"Even though I wasn't on varsity, I was pretty upset that they lost," Chen said.
This year, the senior was able to do something about it.
Chen and sophomore partner Shelby Anderson swept in doubles, helping Corona del Mar take back Back Bay supremacy by defeating Newport Harbor, 11-7, on Wednesday at CdM.
"It feels good to win," Chen said. "It's my last year, so obviously I want to win as many matches as possible and hopefully get to CIF."
Last year the Sea Kings didn't make it there, either, after finishing fourth in league. It was another shock to a program that had previously made the CIF semifinals for 12 straight years.
But Corona del Mar (1-0) is improved. Having Lauren Thaxter back helped against the Sailors (1-1).
Thaxter, a junior who was not able to play last year in the Battle of the Bay as she battled her atypical migraine headaches, swept at No. 1 singles Tuesday for the Sea Kings by scores of 6-2, 6-0 and 6-0.
She said she is slowly progressing in her fight against the migraines.
"It felt great to participate," said Thaxter, who had to watch CdM lose to Newport Harbor, 15-3, last year from the sidelines. "That was horrible. I just had to watch my team, and watch it happen right in front of me. We tried our best last year. I think that gave us more fire to come back this year and win."
Senior Olivia Dajee won twice at No. 2 singles for CdM. Junior Kenzie Purcifull and sophomore Riley Gerdau won twice at No. 1 doubles, and sophomore Taylor Fogarty and junior Kimmia Naaseh earned an important 6-3 win in the first round at No. 3 doubles.
Corona del Mar led, 4-2, after the first round.
"Taylor Fogarty last year was No. 4 doubles on JV," CdM Coach Brian Ricker said. "She's made a gigantic jump. For her to come out against Newport Harbor in the first set and get a win there, that was very big for us. I thought that was a crucial set."
Chen and Anderson's second win also was key. They defeated Newport Harbor's No. 1 team of seniors Megan Bathen and Kaitlyn Cosenza, 6-4. That helped CdM earn a 7-5 lead headed into the final round.
Chen served out the set, though not without some tense moments. The score went from 40-15 to deuce, but the CdM duo won the next two points to take the set.
"I was so nervous," Chen said. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't double fault, I can't double fault!' I was freaking out."
Her partner was feeling it as well.
"I was shaking too," Anderson said. "Even after, I was still shaking."
The Sea Kings soon could calm down. Corona del Mar then won four sets in the final round to clinch the match. It wasn't without a good test from Newport Harbor.
Kate Knight, a junior, won two of three sets at No. 1 singles for the Sailors. Bathen and Cosenza also won twice at No. 1 doubles, while senior McKenna Johnson and freshman Baylee Bakkila each won singles sets for the Sailors.
Seniors Kelsey Christensen and Lexi DeSantis also won once at No. 2 doubles for Newport Harbor.
"We were prepared and focused on all of the things we could control, meaning having a good warmup, having a great attitude, keeping our energy up and footwork moving," Newport Coach Kristen Case said. "They did all those things, so I'm very proud of them for the way they competed. CdM is obviously a tough team and they have a great group of girls. It was a hard-fought match, which was what I expected ... We're only going to get better from it. Hopefully we'll get to see them again in CIF."
That is now possible, since both teams are in Division 1. What seems impossible to Ricker is that his team, which hosted a doubles tournament on Tuesday, has no practices this week or next week, only matches.
CdM plays at Beverly Hills on Thursday before playing Sage Hill on Friday. After the Labor Day holiday, the Sea Kings play host to El Toro and are at Peninsula, before traveling to the Fresno tournament next weekend.
Ricker does not see all of the activity as a problem. He always loves facing Newport Harbor.
"We've been practicing for so long, between off-season and summer," Ricker said. "We had six weeks of camp, and most of the girls were there most of the days. We're just really ready to get going, get involved in the battle. You just never know what they're going to do in the matches versus what they do in the practices, who's a fighter and who's going to get too nervous.
"I'm pretty pleased with [the first two days]. We're off to a good start."