The reason why Newport Harbor High senior Eddie Nolan, a football player, decided to join the boys' tennis team was simple enough.
"It's good to be kept busy," Nolan said Tuesday at The Tennis Club Newport Beach, where the Sailors were playing Sage Hill. "Coach K [Kristen Case] is a great coach, too."
What Case's Sailors have this year is three great additions to the squad. Nolan, a linebacker and defensive end, and senior running back/safety Garrett Hall decided to take up tennis. So did former volleyball player Peirce Ward, who plays doubles with Hall.
They are fun to be around, and they bring tons of energy for the Sailors whether they're in the lineup or not.
Newport football coach Jeff Brinkley would be proud. Call it smashmouth tennis.
"We kind of consider ourselves the Happy Gilmores of tennis," Nolan said with a straight face. "How he revolutionized golf, that's what we're trying to do for tennis."
Bob Barker was not at The Tennis Club on Tuesday. And Nolan and Hall, who helped the Newport football team reach the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division title game last fall, did not play in the tennis lineup. Yet, their energy helped the Sailors earn a 10-8 nonleague victory over the Lightning.
"I think it's great," said Newport Harbor junior Reese Stalder, who swept at No. 1 singles, 6-3, 6-0, 6-0, to remain undefeated this season. "They make everyone else play better, for sure. It kind of gives us a different swagger almost, where everyone's loud. They help the team whether they play or not."
The players who did play for the Sailors (3-0) also did plenty. They helped Newport Harbor rally from a 4-2 deficit after the first round, where the Lightning won all three doubles sets. Eric Magliarditi and Kenan Torlic, Han Chin and Gordon Strelow, as well as David Kim and Shayan Emtiaz, all won close sets for the hosts.
But Sailors freshman David Lee, who has stepped into the No. 2 singles spot occupied by his brother Christian last year, came up big in the second round. Lee outlasted Sage freshman Omeed Moini, 7-6 (7-5), to tie the match score at 6-6.
The Sailors huddled around to celebrate.
"Float like a butterfly, sting like a Lee," shouted Nolan, changing up Muhammad Ali's famous saying just a bit.
Newport Harbor had more than a puncher's chance in the third round. Besides Stalder's win, junior Ryan Lee subbed in at No. 3 singles for a key win. Seniors Sean Perrier and Garrett Byers, playing No. 1 doubles for Newport Harbor, earned a key 6-4 win over Kim and Emtiaz to give the Sailors their ninth set.
Attention turned to the last match on court, where Chin and Strelow were playing the Sailors' Gavin Leonard and Phillip Vu. If Chin and Strelow could secure the victory, Sage Hill would tie the match, 9-9, and win on games.
But Leonard and Vu stormed back from a 4-1 deficit to win, 7-5, clinching the match for the Sailors. They gathered in a circle and Case announced the key accomplishments for several players. Each of them entered the circle to be playfully pushed by his teammates, maybe a little bit harder than in previous years.
"I absolutely love the competitive spirit and passion that [Nolan, Hall and Ward] bring to the squad," Case said. "They are 100% invested. I can feel it as their coach, and you can feel it as their teammates ... It's so important when you're on a team to realize that everybody plays a huge role."
It was the second time in a few days that the Sailors, who play host to Costa Mesa on Thursday, beat the Lightning. In a different format, Newport beat Sage Hill, 6-3, on its way to the Sage Invitational Team Tennis Tournament title last weekend. But Coach A.G. Longoria said he was missing his top four players — Magliarditi, Torlic, Moini and freshman Adam Langevin — on that day.
Longoria started four freshman on Tuesday, also including Grant Janavs at No. 2 singles and Chin.
"It was a learning experience for them, and I think it was also good for [Newport Harbor's] program, because I know they have some young people too," Longoria said. "That's why we play these matches, [for] when we get in the playoffs or league."
Magliarditi and Torlic swept at No. 1 doubles, and Langevin won two of three singles sets for the Lightning (1-3), who play host to Mater Dei on Thursday.