Tennis seniors go out swinging

CORONA DEL MAR — The first day of the CIF Southern Section Individuals girls' tennis tournament can be a long one.

Sage Hill School senior Liana Korber had to check in at Corona del Mar High at 7:30 a.m. Monday. The check-in time was 90 minutes later for doubles teams, including Korber's senior teammates Kimberly Brown and Lauren Hsu, as well as the Newport Harbor team of seniors Megan Bathen and Kaitlyn Cosenza.

But, at this tournament, a long day definitely is a good thing.

All Newport-Mesa representatives made it deep into the afternoon, advancing to the third round before falling. And, though there are no Newport-Mesa girls' players who advanced past the regional stage for the second straight year, all five of these seniors felt a sense of accomplishment in the tennis they played Monday.

Korber, the Academy League singles champion and league MVP, was making her first appearance at CIF Individuals. She made it worthwhile, dispatching Jessie Hamada of El Segundo, 6-1, 6-2, before outlasting Laura Huwe of Santa Margarita, 4-6, 7-5, 10-4, in a marathon match.

Serving at 5-5 in the second set against Huwe, Korber saved four break points to hold serve. She then broke Huwe's serve at love to set up the deciding super-tiebreaker, where she surged ahead.

Korber would later fall in the third round to BYU-bound Tesoro senior Mayci Jones, 6-1, 6-2. Jones was the No. 2-seeded singles player at the CdM regional.

"It was actually kind of fun," Korber said of playing Jones. "She's so good, it didn't make me nervous at all. I lost the first couple of games pretty fast, because I was just dinking it back and she was just crushing it. Then I finally was just like, 'OK, I'm going to go for it and hit through my shots, fight back a little harder.' My goal was to get a game each set, and I got more than that, so I feel pretty good about that.

"This has been the most amazing season, especially personally. To finally make it into CIF Individuals rounded it out really well. It was a good way to end, with today. I won two rounds. I don't think I could have asked for a whole lot more."

Hsu and Brown, who were Lightning team captains this year along with Korber, also had a big day. They beat Chloe Mills and Rita Schrestha of Archer, 6-1, 6-0, before topping Alex Wartenberg and Sara Mijali of Capistrano Valley, 6-1, 6-4, in the second round. Mills is the daughter of former "Knots Landing" actress Donna Mills, who was in attendance at CdM.

Hsu and Brown then fell to the top-seeded team of Cassidy Spearman and Jessica Perez of Dana Hills, 6-1, 6-1.

But the Sage seniors, who were the league doubles champions and, along with Korber, helped the Lightning win their first league title in five years, walked away satisfied. This was also their first CIF Individuals appearance.

"Even though the score didn't show it, I feel like we held our own," Brown said after the last match against Dana Hills. "We got it to deuce a lot … This was a good way to end the season."

Newport Harbor's Bathen was the only local who had been here before, qualifying the last two years with graduate Mindy Wheeler. She and Cosenza also got to the third round Monday.

They topped Amelia Green and Kristi Hong of Windward, 6-2, 6-4, before getting past Chloe Mansour and Dominque Willette of Laguna Beach, 7-5, 6-2.

Bathen and Cosenza then fell to Mikey Barthelmass and Alex Valenstein of Laguna Hills, 6-1, 6-2, in one of the last matches on court in the late afternoon. Barthelmass and Valenstein, the Sea View League champions, also defeated Bathen and Wheeler last year, but this was the first time Bathen had won more than one round in her three years at CIF Individuals.

With the Sailors' girls team season over, Bathen and Cosenza had been practicing with the Newport boys' team the past two weeks in preparation for Individuals.

"They've kept a great attitude," Newport Harbor Coach Kristen Case said. "They've come out everyday excited to be out there with the boys. It's fun to see a different ball, and they've come out and seen a bigger, heavier ball. I think that's helped them improve the last couple of weeks. They've just continued with that same mindset of, 'Let's stay focused, let's stay hungry to improve and let's have fun with this.' I think the combination of those three things has really helped them prepare for today. I'm so proud of them, for everything they've accomplished this season and for them playing at their best today."

Their last set against Laguna Hills was also closer than the final score would indicate. They received vocal support from many of their Newport Harbor teammates, who gathered near the side of the corner court to watch the match.

Bathen and Cosenza were integral parts of Sailors teams that won the Sunset League and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division 2 title match their sophomore and junior years. Like their Sage counterparts, they ended their high school careers swinging.

"We could have just gone out there and [gone through] the motions [against Laguna Hills]," Bathen said. "The score does not represent how hard we worked. This is a very good team. The way that we stuck in there and kept our head in it after a long day, I think that represents our whole season. It just shows how badly we wanted to finish off with a bang."

Twitter: @mjszabo

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