LA CAÑADA — With one of their top singles players reduced to being a spectator, it appeared as though the La Cañada High girls’ tennis team would be at a monumental disadvantage.
For most of the week, La Cañada’s Cassie McKenzie had battled an illness. McKenzie couldn’t overcome her cold in time when La Cañada met third-seeded Laguna Beach on Friday in a CIF Southern Section Division II second-round home match.
With McKenzie shelved, La Cañada put up a valiant effort in a 10-8 defeat.
“Cassie was sick, but it would have helped had she been able to play,” said La Cañada Coach Will Moravec, whose team finished 13-7 and took second in the Rio Hondo League. “It’s water under the bridge now.
“We had our chances to win, but we just couldn’t pull it out late. I’m proud of the way they battled.”
The Spartans opened the playoffs Wednesday with a 10-8 road win against Rowland, marking the first time they advanced out of the first round since they went to the quarterfinals in 2008. McKenzie played all three sets against Rowland, including rallying from a 3-0 deficit to post a 6-3 win in the third set and give the Spartans the victory while trying to shake off her cold.
La Cañada singles player Ally McKenzie, Cassie’s older sister, said Cassie was too ill to compete Friday.
“She has been sick all week,” said Ally McKenzie, who lost just one game en route to recording a sweep. “I thought we had a real good season.
“Our doubles teams improved as the season went along. We are getting closer. We’ll have a lot of players returning next year.”
Laguna Beach (17-5) won the Orange Coast League championship before posting a 12-6 opening-round home victory against El Dorado. The Breakers captured six doubles sets, including three from their No. 1 team of Madeline Loomis and Sarah Nederlander (6-0, 6-3, 6-0).
Trailing, 8-6, La Cañada mounted a final comeback bid. The Spartans led each of the final four sets early, but the Breakers turned to their experience to hold the Spartans at bay.
“I think our experience was a huge factor,” Laguna Beach Coach Don Davis said. “It was an exciting match right to the end.
“Winning close matches helps you down the road.”
No. 1 singles player Sawa Keymeulen won two sets, 6-1, 6-3, for the Spartans. Cassie McKenzie had been slotted in the No. 1 slot for the playoff opener, though Ally McKenzie won the Rio Hondo League title and will continue her season on Nov. 25 in the CIF Individuals.
La Cañada also received two doubles victories from Emily Swanson and Serena Zheng (6-2, 6-0) and one from Sharyse Watanabe and Elizabeth Lee, 7-6(7-2).
Moravec said the Spartans will look to bounce back next season.
“We return almost all of our players,” Moravec said. “I think the forecast looks real good.”