Girls' Tennis: Sage cleans up on Tars

NEWPORT BEACH — It wasn't quite a double date, but at a crucial moment in their doubles engagement on Tuesday, there Sage Hill School doubles partners Paige Reyna and Crystal Yu were, darting off to the ladies room together to freshen up.

Tied, 5-5, against the Newport Harbor No. 1 team of Anna Burke and Kendall Cosenza, it was more like a fresh perspective the two Lightning freshmen needed.

"We went to the bathroom to refocus," Reyna said. "We splashed water on our face and got focused and came up with a new strategy."

Added Yu: "Paige was helping me get back up [emotionally]."

It seemed to work as the No. 2 Sage duo prevailed, 7-6 (7-5 in the tiebreaker), to help the Lightning earn an 11-7 nonleague girls' tennis victory at The Tennis Club.

Reyna and Yu earned one of four 7-6 set victories for the hosts, who opened a 4-2 lead after the first round and led, 8-4, after two rounds.

Sage Hill sophomore Celine Wang swept at No. 1 singles, including a 7-6 triumph over the Sailors No. 2 player, for her first sweep of the season to come through big for the winners. It was also the only sweep of the day for the Lightning.

"She's very mature for her age in terms of handling pressure," Sage Hill Coach A.G. Longoria said of Wang, who also posted 6-2 and 6-1 wins.

Wang said she was gratified to sweep and was particularly proud of her 7-6 triumph.

"I was most proud of that match, because I really hung in there," Wang said. "I had to really fight for that one."

Wang's capping triumph completed the match, which had already been decided.

"They key was the 4-2 lead in the first round," said Longoria, who noted this was the first win over the Sailors in recent memory, including a 5-4 tournament loss two weeks ago.

Longoria said the win bodes well for the Lightning's chances in what figures to be a rugged race in Academy League play, which opens Friday.

"In 25 seasons that I've been at Sage Hill, 13 with the girls [and the other 12 with the boys], I've only lost one time when I was ahead, 4-2, at the end of the first round," Longoria said. "Our goal was to at least be tied after one round, but we stepped it up and led, 4-2. Then we started thinking, 'Hey, we can do this.'"

Reyna and Yu overcame a 6-3 opening-round loss to the Sailors' No. 2 tandem of senior Regan Rutter and junior Anne La Grandeur, to post wins of 7-6 and 6-4.

"We weren't supposed to win, but we did, so it feels great," Reyna said. "We just played like we didn't have anything to lose."

Yu earned praise from her coaches for showing poise in the most heated match. Yu also said she had to work hard to deal with the Sailor players' constant chatter, encouraging themselves in between points.

"I get distracted pretty easily and I felt like that was a big part of why we lost our first-round match," Yu said. "So, when I was serving [in the two subsequent sets], I just decided to wait until it got more quiet."

Yu bounced the ball as many as a dozen times before serving, awaiting the cheering Sailors to become quiet before every point.

There was also mild contention during the aforementioned 7-6 victory for Yu and Reyna, as the Newport Harbor duo, upset by lines calls, asked for and received line judges for the match.

"We were just calling them as we see them," Reyna said.

"I think we played better with line judges," Yu said. "because there was no pressure to make line calls.

"We don't usually win those [long, close matches], but we were keeping each other up," Yu said.

Tess Alexander teamed with Marina Anderson to win two sets at No. 3 doubles for the Lightning. Anderson gave way to a substitute in the third round, due to allergies.

Rutter and La Grandeur earned a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 sweep to comprise the leading highlight for the visitors (6-6), who open Sunset League play on Thursday.

Sage Hill sophomore Jaclyn Gershultz won two of three at No. 2 singles, claiming her third set, 6-4, by rallying from a 3-2 deficit.

Amira Tarsadia, playing No. 3 singles, also won two of three for the Lightning.

"[Coach Kristen Case's Newport Harbor] teams are always well-coached and they play doubles well," Longoria said. "But, surprisingly, we stayed toe-to-toe with them. It could have gone either way and I was happy to win it outright, because it could have gotten hairy, had it come down to games."

Sage won 87 games, three more than the Sailors, for whom No. 1 singles player Kate Knight won two of three sets, including the match's lone 6-0 verdict.

Newport Harbor sophomores Elle Zielinski and Livy Zehnder won two of three sets at No. 3 doubles.

"I'm proud of the way my team has battled through the preseason," Case said. "Hats off to Sage today. It played great. This match does not change our goals or my belief in what we can accomplish in league. It just gives us a kick in the butt and allows us to refocus."

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