Girls' Tennis: Los Al stays on top

Coach Kristen Case makes sure that her players rarely leave a Newport Harbor High girls' tennis match without a smile on their face.

This was provided Tuesday, as the Sailors sang "Happy Birthday" to their teammate Claudia Davis, a junior who was turning 17. They ate cookies to celebrate.

In terms of tennis, there simply wasn't too much to say. Visiting Los Alamitos got almost as many sets as Davis now has years.

The Griffins posted a dominant 16-2 victory, their second Sunset League victory over the Sailors this season. Los Alamitos (6-1, 6-0 in league) appears headed to its second straight outright league title, while Newport Harbor (10-8, 4-2) stays in second place.

"We went out there fighting, but I don't think we played maybe as strong as we could have," said Newport senior co-captain Reagan Rutter, who won one set at No. 2 doubles with her junior partner Annie LaGrandeur. "I mean, they're obviously a very, very good team. I still think we gave it our all and we put our hearts out there … we played good tennis today, but not great tennis, and I think great tennis is what we needed to bring out here for a team like this. Kudos to Los Al, because they have a really, really, really strong team this year."

The Sailors had lost to the Griffins, 14-4, in the league opener Sept. 26 on the road, but six of those set losses were by 6-4 or closer. That gave Newport Harbor optimism for Tuesday's second meeting of the year, and the Sailors played well in the first round.

They were down, 5-1, after the round, but it easily could have been 3-3. But Los Al's Catt MacEachern and Karoline Pintar rallied to top Rutter and LaGrandeur, 6-4, and Los Al's Hope Hairrell topped the Sailors' Jenn Kingsley by the same score at No. 3 singles.

Los Alamitos went on to win all six sets in the second round, taking an 11-1 lead and clinching the match.

"With the way the rounds are set up in high school tennis, momentum definitely plays a big role," Case said. "When you can get a 3-3 split in the first round versus a 1-5, that definitely changes the dynamics. It was just reminiscent of our last match with them. It was that one little break that we were away from, but again you have to highlight the fact that our first round was very strong on all courts. I feel that every girl was on a mission. They were ridiculously focused, they had great energy and they played good tennis."

Case said she thought the Griffins' doubles teams played better and more aggressively than in the teams' first meeting. Junior Sydney Bott and freshman Erica Cheng swept at No. 1 doubles, as did MacEachern and Pinter at No. 2.

Los Alamitos also swept in singles with juniors Jennifer Lu and Caroleen Faraji, as well as sophomore Harrell. Lu swept all three of her sets 6-0, with Newport's No. 1 player Kate Knight clearly not at 100%. Knight, a senior co-captain who has been sick for the past several days, coughed her way through her first two sets before she was substituted out in the third round.

"She's been horribly ill," Case said. "She's a senior and you want to play that last Los Al match. We did everything we could to get her rested and ready to go … she really continues to be a great role model for the team."

Newport's only other set win came when its No. 3 doubles team, sophomores Elle Zielinski and Livy Zehnder, won in the first round.

"Los Al is a very strong team, there's no doubt about it," Case said. "To beat a team like that, everybody has to be playing great tennis. Today we played very good tennis … to win a match like that, everyone needs to be playing some of the best tennis they've ever played."

Los Alamitos, like Newport Harbor, is young. The Griffins started just two seniors, both at No. 3 doubles. And they had just one nonleague match before beginning league play, a loss to University.

But the Griffins, who played without head coach Kevin Garrett (sick) on Tuesday, have talented players like Bott. She was the Sunset League doubles champion last year with graduate Sarah Edwards. Bott said her squad wanted to make sure it wasn't like last year, when Los Al dominated Newport Harbor in the teams' first league meeting but squeaked out a 9-9 win on games in the second matchup at the Sailors' courts.

"Last year, playing here it was a lot closer," Bott said. "They were a lot more rowdy last year. This year, it was not that bad compared to last year. Also, I know that we've already beat them before. We knew that we were going to win [again today]."

Newport Harbor will look to improve throughout the rest of the second half of league. A key match is Oct. 24 at Edison. The Sailors beat the Chargers, 11-7, in the teams' first meeting.

"We're really looking to get second in league," Rutter said. "That's our goal, and all we have to do is stick with what we have. Edison will be a good match, but I definitely think that we'll show up."

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