CORONA DEL MAR — A familiar face visited the tennis courts at Corona del Mar High on Thursday afternoon.
It was CdM alumna Melissa Matsuoka, who is about to begin her junior year at Dartmouth. Matsuoka had key wins against rival University as a CdM senior three years ago, helping the Sea Kings win two close matches to clinch their 11th straight Pacific Coast League title.
Times have changed.
The Matsuoka student-athlete on the CdM campus is freshman phenom golfer Amy Matsuoka, Melissa's little sister. It wouldn't have really mattered if Melissa had laced up her tennis shoes Thursday.
Nobody has been able to touch the Trojans in league since 2009. That trend continued, as University eased to a 16-2 victory in the league opener for both schools.
University (5-1), ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division 1, is going for its third straight league title. The Trojans, who were coming off a 13-5 loss on the road against No. 4 Campbell Hall on Tuesday, did not encounter much resistance against the Sea Kings.
"It was a tough match, and it should have been closer score-wise," University Coach John Kessler said of the loss to Campbell Hall. "I was curious to see how we rebounded today. I thought it was fair energy. We just played fair today."
That was more than enough against Corona del Mar (5-3), which has improved from a year ago but not to the level of Uni. The Sea Kings were also missing their top player, junior Lauren Thaxter, who was out sick.
University sophomore Yuki Asami, junior Danielle Pham and freshman Alyssa Rudin combined to sweep their nine singles matches. Every set was 6-0 or 6-1.
Shannon Theisen and Celine Gruaz also swept in doubles for the Trojans, who realistically could have won 18-0 before Kessler put in substitutes.
CdM subs Shea O Hill and Maddie Hayward, both seniors, combined to beat a Uni sub doubles team in a tiebreaker. The other CdM victory came from Taylor Fogarty and Kimmia Naaseh, who edged another sub doubles team, 6-3.
The Sea Kings' No. 1 doubles team of senior Sophia Chen and freshman Siena Sharf also nearly got on the board, but Uni's No. 3 team of Sarah Mae Garcia and Alisa Takatori rallied for a 7-5 victory.
"We're getting better," CdM Coach Brian Ricker said. "All our kids are getting better. In a match like this, you see our kids still have a positive attitude. They have to understand that a match like this can help us to then beat Northwood and Woodbridge, which would get us into the playoffs."
University was just too strong. Gruaz is a top transfer from Chicago and senior Kaiulani Boyer, a transfer from Palm Desert, is top 20 in the girls' 18s in Southern California.
"That's difficult to deal with," Ricker said. "Without Lauren here, I don't think we have a girl ranked in the top 200. They have 10 ... What can you do except come into a match like this and hope you can learn? For example, Taylor Fogarty, I like her to play at the net all the time, to get in there as much as possible. Against the No. 2 team and the No. 1 team, they just hit too hard and she couldn't get in. But, by the third match, you saw she was in there.
"Most importantly, I wanted them to play the same way the same way they're going to play against Northwood and Woodbridge, even though the ball is coming significantly harder."
Last year Northwood and Woodbridge finished ahead of CdM, which was fourth in league and didn't make the Division 1 playoffs. The Sea Kings' four league matches against the Timberwolves and Warriors are key again this year; the first one is at Northwood on Sept. 25.
Kessler said he can see the Sea Kings again challenging his team in the future.
"It's been a little bit of a switch, but with CdM that's not going to last too long," Kessler said. "I think it'll rise next year. They have some good kids coming in, Brian does a great job with who he has, and you will see that definitely turn around next year. There's just too much talent at CdM, and the coaching's too good. Even today, to be honest, I think our talent level was higher, but if you watch the way they played, they got balls back. I think they played good fundamental doubles. That's just always what Brian's teams do. It wasn't like we were just walking through the doubles, that's for sure.
"I see them coming in second in the PCL, and I think they're going to be successful against a lot of teams."