Sailors step up for title

NEWPORT BEACH — Working together has never been a problem for the Newport Harbor High girls' tennis team.

"Teamwork makes the dream work," is the motto on the Sailors' bracelets this year.

Five Newport Harbor seniors helped make their dreams come true Saturday at The Tennis Club Newport Beach. Megan Bathen, Kaitlyn Cosenza, McKenna Johnson, Kelsey Christensen and Lexi DeSantis each delivered big performances to make sure the Lightning Invitational title stayed with the Sailors.

Newport Harbor won the five-team tournament, hosted by Sage Hill, for the second straight year, finishing undefeated in the round-robin format. The key win was when the Sailors won four singles sets Saturday, including the final tiebreaker victory from Bathen, to finish a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over the Lightning.

"Our senior leadership for this team is so important, and all of them stepped up when called upon," Newport Harbor Coach Kristen Case said. "All of them were called to rise at that point, and they got the job done. I thought that was so symbolic of just the role they've taken on this season. And Lexi did the same on the doubles court today."

It definitely wasn't easy. Newport Harbor had lost three of four doubles sets to Sage Hill on Friday. When the teams met to complete the singles portion of their match Saturday, Sage Hill needed to win just two of five sets to clinch the win. The Sailors went with a singles lineup of junior Kate Knight at No. 1 singles, followed by four seniors.

Lightning senior Liana Korber, who was undefeated on the weekend and voted the tournament's singles MVP, defeated Knight, 6-3, at No. 1 singles. The Lightning went up, 4-1 in the match, needing just one more set to claim the tournament title.

Sage never got it. Johnson defeated Sage senior Lauren Hsu, 6-1. at No. 2 singles. Christensen defeated Sage freshman Celine Wang at No. 5 singles by the same score.

Bathen and Cosenza, who normally play together on Newport Harbor's No. 1 doubles team, were left playing on adjacent singles courts. First Cosenza topped Sage sophomore Amira Tarsadia, 6-2, to tie the match score at 4.

Sage senior Kimberly Brown twice served for the set against Bathen, but Bathen broke serve both times. Bathen, who took the ACT test Saturday morning, also passed the test in the ensuing tiebreaker. She took control early and finished off the set, 7-6 (7-3), all-but clinching the title for the Sailors.

Talk about a team effort. Bathen said the constant cheering of her "little sisters" on the team — junior Claire Farmer and freshman Anna Burke — helped motivate her to victory.

"I really had nothing to lose," Bathen said. "I haven't played singles in like five months. I was just out there trying to play for my team."

Sage Hill, which was denied its sixth title in the nine-year history of the Lightning Invitational, had Brown and Hsu named as the MVP doubles team of the tournament. Newport Harbor had Christensen, Bathen, Knight and Cosenza make the all-tournament team.

The Sailors, who returned just three players who received significant playing time last season, proved they could step up when it counted.

"We're the underdogs now," Bathen said. "People don't expect us [to win] anymore. Having that kind of reverse target on our back, we can go out here and reach for the stars. We have nothing to lose, and that's how we've been playing ... These girls know exactly how we did it last year. We play the same game we did last year. Kristen knows what she's doing, and can teach us all."

Cerritos finished third in the tournament, followed by Santa Ynez and Sage Hill's "B" team, featuring varsity bench players and top JV players. Lightning sophomore Abby Ruck also made the all-tournament team from Sage's second squad.

Newport Harbor's players, who also earned a big nonleague win over Woodbridge on Thursday, said they feel like they have momentum heading into the Sunset League season. The Sailors, four-time defending league champions, open at Edison on Thursday.

"We couldn't have been better prepared for the tournament," Christensen said. "We put in so many hours over the summer, and the matches that we've had in the past two weeks have really helped us grow and improve. I think we just took everything that we've learned and brought it here."

Cosenza, who won in singles against Santa Ynez on Saturday and teamed with Knight for a doubles win over Cerritos, said she is excited for the team's progress.

"This definitely was a long tournament, and I think it tested us," Cosenza said. "It definitely made us become closer, and we all played very well. We all showed up. Everyone brought to this win in so many different ways, and I just think that we're going to be so amazing when league starts."

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