HUNTINGTON BEACH — A popular term on the Newport Harbor High girls' tennis team is "right back." Players often yell it to their teammates for support, indicating that they should come right back after a missed shot, refocus and get the next point.
In their first time on the big stage at the Sunset League finals, Sailors sophomores Anna Burke and Kendall Cosenza did not win the tournament in doubles. But they left the courts with third-place medals, and their heads held high.
Burke and Cosenza plan to be "right back" at this stage the next two years as well.
"We're only sophomores," Burke said after she and Cosenza outlasted Los Alamitos seniors Mary Bunting and Stephanie Kim, 6-4, 6-4, in the third-place match Thursday at Marina High. " We have so much ahead of us. We're coming in here stronger next year. We've got two more years to improve and get better."
It is that kind of mindset that will help Burke and Cosenza in the future. They did come close to pulling off a big upset Thursday, in front of all their teammates who came to support them.
No. 4-seeded Burke and Cosenza took the first set off top-seeded Sydney Bott and Erika Cheng of Los Alamitos. It was the first set Bott and Cheng had lost in league all season.
Bott and Cheng rallied for a 3-6, 6-1, 10-2 victory in a super-tiebreaker, denying Burke and Cosenza their first appearance in CIF Individuals. But the experience itself also was valuable for Newport Harbor's duo.
"They played great," Newport Harbor Coach Kristen Case said. "That's a tough semifinal that they had, to have to play the No. 1 seed. We just came out confident and ready to play, and played some incredible doubles. Obviously, Bott and Cheng are a great team. They stepped up their game a lot in that second set. They really started being way more aggressive, poaching a lot more and hitting bigger balls. We did our best trying to adjust.
"I was just very happy with how they played that first set of that match. That showed huge improvement. This is the best doubles that Anna and Kendall have played in their career."
Bott said Los Alamitos had a pep assembly Thursday, so she and Cheng got to the match just before it began. She attributed that to the Griffins duo's slow start.
"After we got warmed up first set, we knew how to play them," Bott said. "That's when we caught our lead, and we just rolled with it … We just had to hit out on the ball and be more aggressive at the net."
Bott and Cheng went on to defeat their Los Al teammates Catt McEachern and Karoline Pintar in the doubles final. It was the third straight appearance in the Sunset League doubles final for Bott, a junior, and the second time she's played a Cosenza at the tournament. Bott and Sarah Edwards lost to Newport's Mindy Wheeler and Megan Bathen in the 2011 league doubles title match. Last year, Bott and Edwards defeated Bathen and Kendall Cosenza's older sister, Kaitlyn, in a close title match.
Kendall and her partner had to bounce back Thursday after the long semifinal match. They did so by beating Bunting and Kim, against whom they had split their two sets in league.
"Keeping our focus was huge for us," Kendall Cosenza said. "The mental game was definitely a big factor."
Los Alamitos also had the two league singles finalists, with Jennifer Lu defeating teammate Hope Hairrell in the final.
Newport Harbor will now prepare for the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. Brackets will be released Monday.
The Sailors will do so with a No. 1 doubles team that yes, may consist of two sophomores, but has a lot of momentum right now. Last year, Burke and Cosenza played No. 3 doubles all year for the Sailors, and advanced to just the second round at league finals.
"They've improved incredibly in a short period of time," Case said. "Now we just want to keep it going and set the bar a little higher ... Now they have the experience that they need to really take it to the top, top level. And they're ready. I have no doubt in my mind, they're ready."
Newport Harbor also played well in the junior varsity league finals Thursday. Freshmen Becca Standt and Hannah Blower won the league doubles title, Lily Walkow was second in singles and Elise Rimland was third.
Newport JV coach Jill Casserly said the Sailors also finished second in league, like their varsity counterparts. Huntington Beach won the JV league title.