Girls' Tennis: Panthers punish CdM

ROLLING HILLS ESTATES — Peninsula High girls' tennis coach Mike Hoeger wanted Wednesday afternoon's CIF Southern Section Division 1 semifinal match to move along as quickly as possible.

As Hoeger explained during the team introductions, the tennis courts at Peninsula High don't have lights. When the sun goes down over the hill, it gets dark fast.

"Do we want to go singles again?" Hoeger asked as he passed Corona del Mar's players near the end of the second round, ready to get everyone back on court.

Nobody replied.

Nobody really wants to play singles against Peninsula this year.

The undefeated Panthers (22-0), who are the top seed in Division 1, have a very strong lineup. They highlighted it Wednesday, routing No. 4-seeded CdM, 15-3, to advance to the CIF title match for the first time in eight years.

Peninsula will play No. 2 seed University, which got past No. 3 seed Campbell Hall, 12-6, in another semifinal match. The Panthers and Trojans will play for the title Friday at 10:30 a.m. at The Claremont Club.

The season is not over for CdM (19-4). As a Division 1 semifinalist, Coach Brian Ricker said the Sea Kings are eligible for the CIF State Southern Regional championships for the first time. That tournament begins Tuesday.

The Sea Kings don't want to be on the same side of the draw as Peninsula in that tournament either. The Panthers' singles lineup of sophomore Ena Shibahara, senior Harvard commit Annika Ringblom and senior Jasmine Hosseini is simply too good. Shibahara is ranked No. 1 nationally in girls' 16s by the United States Tennis Assn.

Peninsula swept the semifinal match in singles, with all set scores either 6-0 or 6-1. Overall, the Panthers won 54 of 57 singles games, despite the best efforts of CdM sophomore Elena Fish, junior Riley Gerdau and junior Shelby Anderson.

"She was so good," Gerdau said of playing against Shibahara. "It brought up my confidence just getting points against them, because they were so good. I mean, it is cool to say that you've played the No. 1 girl in the nation. It was just fun to play her. She's really nice, too, so it made it a better experience. She was just amazing."

CdM did not have senior singles player Lauren Thaxter for Wednesday's match. Ricker said CdM's best player was undergoing acupuncture therapy. It was tough for CdM not to have her there, especially as Ricker said she played some of her best tennis in Monday's 11-7 quarterfinal win over Santa Barbara.

"She can still sub in if she gets here," Ricker said as the match began.

Thaxter never made it to Peninsula, and the Panthers started strong. Peninsula led, 6-0, after the first round, and had clinched the match with an 11-1 lead after two rounds.

Risa Nakagawa and Sara Khattab swept at No. 1 doubles for Peninsula, and the No. 2 team of Gala Strong and Tia Elipusan won twice before being subbed out. The margins were larger than the teams' first meeting, a 12-6 Peninsula win on Sept. 25. The Panthers also didn't have Hosseini for that match.

"It made a little bit of a difference [having Hosseini back], but I think our doubles were just sharper today," Hoeger said. "The first round was an impressive round for us. We've been playing better week by week, and now we know that it's not an illusion — we actually are playing better. Sometimes you just don't know, with your competition, but Brian's always got interesting [doubles] formations. You don't know how to play his teams, because they try different things. It's like a spread offense or something. They have options: lobbing, poaching, getting to the net.

"I'm more of a traditionalist, so I always get nervous playing against his doubles teams. They have a lot of strategies, but today we just hit the ball better. I think that was the difference."

Siena Sharf and Jasie Dunk won CdM's lone set against a Peninsula starter, as they beat the Panthers' No. 3 doubles team of Rachel Martinez and Sarina Liu, 6-3, in the second round. In the final round, CdM senior doubles teams of Kenzie Purcifull and Kimmia Naaseh, as well as substitutes Gigi Gill and Robin Caston, each beat Peninsula substitutes.

It was a good CIF run for the Sea Kings. They boast only one tournament player in Thaxter, and she played in just one of their four CIF matches. But CdM still got to the semifinals for the first time in three years.

"None of us were expecting us to get as far as we did," Gerdau said. "As a team, we've become so close, and I think that's really helped us as we've come through the season."

Ricker showed the Sea Kings the score sheet from the previous match before Wednesday's match began, reminding them how it easily could have been 6-6 after two rounds. He peered over at the Panthers, huddled on the No. 1 singles court.

"Girls, they are so nervous," Ricker told his team.

But Hoeger said it appeared that CdM missed having Thaxter.

"You could see that the intensity was not quite the same for those girls," Hoeger said. "They needed their No. 1 girl."

It worked out well for him, though.

The match ended quicker, so nobody had to play in the dark.

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