The Corona del Mar High boys’ tennis team was close to tying top-seeded University after the first round of Friday’s CIF Southern Section Open Division title match.
Unfortunately for the Sea Kings, they weren’t playing horseshoes or with hand grenades.
Close didn’t show up on the scoreboard. No. 2-seeded CdM lost a couple of close sets and ultimately fell behind early.
University was on its way to a 12-6 win at The Claremont Club, earning the top prize as its undefeated season continues.
The Trojans (26-0) earned their second Open Division title in four seasons after losing on games last year at Studio City Harvard-Westlake. They did it with depth, winning a majority of sets in both doubles (seven) and singles (five).
The University doubles teams of Omar Khayat and Champion Okey, as well as SangHyuk Im and Konrad Walter-Wu, both swept the Sea Kings (21-3). Ojai singles champion and senior Conrad Brown and junior Ani Gupta both won twice.
“In some playoff matches, we got through winning some close ones, and today, [University] won them,” HoM coach Jamie Gresh said. “The close ones almost favor the better team, and on paper they were the better team. They were definitely stronger and proved why they were No. 1 all season. It’s a strong singles lineup and a strong doubles lineup. There’s not a weak spot in that lineup.”
Still, CdM was closed to a 3-3 tie after the first round. Jonathan Hinkel and Jack Knox earned a win at No. 3 doubles, getting past the Trojans’ Kevin Zhang and Andrew Ke.
Then, a double whammy. CdM’s No. 1 team of seniors Max Krykunenko and Logan Friedman lost a 5-1 lead in a 7-5 defeat against Okey and Khayat. Then, in a hotly contested set at No. 2 singles, CdM sophomore Jack Cross lost 7-6 (7-3) to University junior Ari Gupta.
Cross served for the set at 5-4, but Gupta rallied for the victory.
“He played well,” Cross said. “I could play a little bit better, but he definitely stepped up.”
Instead of being tied after the round, CoM trailed 5-1. University took a 9-3 lead after the second round and clinched the match soon after.
“If we get to 3-all, maybe that forces a little bit of pressure,” Gresh said. “It’s just a different feel. [Being down] 1-5 is like, the ship sank a little bit there, you know? At 3-all, you’re treading some good water. Their doubles were just very deep, very solid. We played a good brand of tennis, and exactly how we wanted to play. It’s just, you’re playing a very talented, loaded team. We gave them the best we could.”
Niels Hoffmann won twice at No. 1 singles for the Sea Kings, who also got two wins from Cross and a victory from Krykunenko and Friedman in doubles in the third round.
CdM, making its first title match appearance since 2013, was denied its 10th CIF team title. University was the victor in that match nine years ago as well, but Trojans coach John Kessler was highly appreciative of the fight the Sea Kings showed in making it to Friday’s match.
“On paper, we should be good,” Kessler said. “[Gresh] is just a great coach. For him to be No. 2 this year and go take out Calabasas 13-5 [in Wednesday’s Open Division semifinals] is crazy. I hope nobody takes that for granted.”
The season is not over for CdM. The Sea Kings have qualified for the CIF-USTA Southern California Regionals, which take place back at The Claremont Club beginning May 20.
Kevin Joynt, the Sea Kings’ third senior starter in doubles, said the ride has definitely been fun to this point.
“The whole process to get here, getting close with all of the guys, that was great,” Joynt said. “We had team bonding after most home matches or a big win, we’d go out and get food and celebrate a little bit. There was really good team camaraderie this year.”
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