Girls' Tennis: Thaxter battles to end

IRVINE — Corona del Mar High senior Lauren Thaxter is one of the strongest-willed people you'll ever meet.

If you haven't met Thaxter, just know that one moment Wednesday afternoon she was kneeled over in the corner of a tennis court at Beckman High, vomiting.

Minutes later, she was back on court, zapped of energy but doing everything she could to beat Northwood senior Chloe Pham in a Pacific Coast League tournament semifinal match.

Thaxter, who has suffered from atypical migraine headaches and "auras" (precursors to seizures) since she was a sophomore, never gives up. Once the match has started, she isn't coming off court until the final result has been determined.

"Since she's had this, I've told her that I wanted her to default at least 20 times," CdM Coach Brian Ricker said. "She's said no every single time ... She won't come out, period. You see, she's throwing up, she's wobbling, she's obviously not 100%. But it's just not in her nature to come out of a match, which is good ... In her mind, it's 'What can I change? It's not over.' That's just her nature. She's definitely the best fighter I've ever had."

Her resolve impressed those who watched her match with Pham. The final result did not go her way, as Pham won, 6-2, 6-3. The top-seeded Thaxter lost in the league semifinals for the third straight year, again falling one match short of reaching the CIF Individuals tournament.

So did seniors Kenzie Purcifull and Kimmia Naaseh, who fell to top-seeded Danielle Pham and Yuki Asami of University, 6-1, 6-2, in a doubles semifinal match. Purcifull and Naaseh then fell to Sarah Mae Garcia and Judy Kam, 8-5, in the third-place match.

For Thaxter, the final result was disappointing, but the way she got there was impressive.

"I just didn't want to give up," Thaxter said after the match. "I just didn't have as much stamina as I needed to, because I was sick. If the game goes to deuce, usually my stamina pulls me through. But [Pham] is a great player. She just pulled through on the important points.

"It was just a bad day," Thaxter added. "Unlucky."

Pham, who also beat Thaxter in the semifinals two years ago, won several long games early in the first set before winning it, 6-2. Thaxter had her episode down, 3-0, in the second set, taking a 10-minute medical timeout. She eventually fell behind 5-0.

But she battled back, using an effective slice forehand and her strong backhand down the line to win three straight games. Pham finally closed out the match, but not before the scare. Even despite the relatively lopsided score, the match lasted well over two hours.

Thaxter did not storm off the court, but instead went over to University's Alyssa Rudin to calmly let her know that she would be defaulting the third-place match.

"As a father, as a coach, it's just impressive the way she handles herself," University Coach John Kessler said of Thaxter. "Not many people would do what she did [today], no way."

For Purcifull and Naaseh, it was a tough day against two good Uni teams. They still nearly came back from a 6-1 deficit in the third-place match, which was played as a pro set.

"I think that we played really well," Naaseh said. "Even though the score was really bad, a lot of the games were really close. We played well as a team and came back in this [third-place] match. We just started doing different things that worked for us. Even though we lost, we did really well."

Danielle Pham and Asami beat their University teammates, Kyla Scott and Celine Gruaz, 8-2, in the doubles championship match. Woodbridge junior Stephanie Hazell won her third straight league singles title, beating Chloe Pham, 8-5, in the title match.

All of the singles and doubles finalists qualified for CIF Individuals, which begin with the sectionals on Nov. 25 at CdM. This is the third straight year that no CdM girls' player has qualified.

The Sea Kings play at Northwood on Friday in their final league match, which was rained out earlier this week. The CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoff brackets will be released Monday.

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