The trip from Corona del Mar High to Ojai’s Libbey Park is only about 124 miles. If you don’t hit too much traffic, you can get there in about two hours.
CdM juniors Carson Williams and Josh Kliger were two tennis players who didn’t mind making that trip three weeks ago for the 113th annual Ojai Tennis Tournament.
Williams and Kliger had a strong tournament, getting to the quarterfinals of the CIF Doubles division at “The Ojai.” They enjoyed their down time as well, watching a few of the Pac-12 men’s tennis matches in town.
After losing the quarterfinal match, a tough three-setter to the eventual finalists from San Marino, CdM Coach Jamie Gresh didn’t allow his top doubles team to fret. He challenged Williams and Kliger to win the tournament next year.
“I think it’s a feasible goal if they’re playing well,” Gresh said. “I know it’s a long way away, but as an individual thing, hearing that from your coach kind of gives you the confidence. They know I’m behind them, and that’s what I see with their ability as a team. They have such a good lefty-righty combo, and they complement each other nicely.”
They came back from Ojai playing inspired tennis. Williams and Kliger are huge reasons why No. 2-seeded Corona del Mar is back in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title match, where the Sea Kings will play top-seeded defending champion University at 11:30 a.m. Friday at The Claremont Club.
They are 39-4 overall this season, including a perfect 11-0 in the playoffs. Their styles mesh together well for CdM, with Kliger’s big lefty serve and power game and Williams’ solid overall play.
“Ojai was definitely a turning point for us,” Williams said. “We were doing average, but we weren’t really as into it. For me, at least, Ojai made me enjoy tennis a lot more and it just gave me a lot more confidence.”
Last year Williams mostly played singles, with Kliger, a transfer from Marina High, in doubles. They played a little bit together as a doubles team, but didn’t really click.
Both could have played singles this year, but with the addition of freshman Bjorn Hoffmann, CdM has a very solid singles lineup also featuring senior Alec Adamson and sophomore Chaz Downing.
CdM’s Paul Kacik, who has also played doubles this year with fellow senior Andrew Nguyen, recognizes the greatness of Williams and Kliger. He has seen it before at CdM.
“Those guys kill it together,” Kacik said. “When Carter [Wheatley] and [Alex] Murray played together [in 2011], how they kind of just clicked, it’s the same thing that happened with Carson and Josh ... I was pissed, because I thought I was going to start at No. 1 doubles with Andrew. I was like, ‘Wow, what is this? Josh and Carson playing together?’
“But I accepted it like a quarter of the way into the season. I was like, ‘Yeah, they play great together, they’re a great No. 1 dubs team.’ If we didn’t have them, it wouldn’t really work out.”
Williams and Kliger said they enjoy being the Sea Kings’ top doubles team. They play consistently, putting pressure on their opponents.
“I have my power, and he has consistency and placement,” Kliger said. “I feel like it’s hard to break us. The way we win is that when we start out good, we get on top of everybody. We try to jump on everybody, and I feel like that’s what makes us successful.”
Kliger is usually the more demonstrative of the two players. That makes sense when you consider he played hockey, not tennis, growing up. He was a left wing, and would travel around Canada playing. But eventually Kliger settled into a sport more suited for the warm climate in Southern California.
“I still have that anger,” Kliger said. “When I compete, I get really fiery and stuff. We both do, but [Williams] keeps it in. When I get mad, you’ll know when I’m mad. I’m just going to scream. I’m going to let everybody know I’m mad.”
Gresh said Kliger still has done a better job lately reining in his emotions. Williams also is competitive, but shows it in a different way.
The last two years he has taken breaks from tennis. The one last summer was shorter than the one two years ago, as Williams didn’t play tennis for about two months while living with his father in Idaho.
“Taking little breaks definitely makes me want to come back, gives me that passion for the game,” Williams said. “It doesn’t get stale for me.”
Winning a CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship definitely would mean a lot. The Sea Kings know they’re underdogs to University, but they plan to come out swinging.
“We’ve still got a chance,” Kliger said. “I mean, if anybody’s going to beat Uni, it’s going to be us. Hopefully we’ll come out firing like we did [Wednesday in a 12-6 Division 1 semifinal victory over Harvard-Westlake].”