Sports injuries are as inevitable as losing. So what does a coach do when he loses his top four players at the same time? “You have to take the girls you have available and try to figure out the best way you can score points with those girls,” said Laguna Beach High tennis coach Don Davis, but “there’s only so much you can do. You can’t replace you best players.”
When the season began, persistent back pain forced number one singles player Brooke Michaels to move to doubles. She and partner Madeline Loomis played four sets together, winning two against Mission Viejo and two against Northwood, before the pain became unbearable.
An MRI revealed a defect in Michaels’ fifth lumbar vertebrae, a condition that would end her high school career. “It was pretty depressing,” said the defending Orange Coast league individual champion. “I’m an athlete, and I don’t enjoy not playing.”
Junior Bailey Jaeger, last year’s league runner up in singles, would last only four matches before tendonitis in her wrist and arm sidelined her for a month. “I’ve never been out due to an injury,” said Jaeger on the eve of her return to the court against Estancia last Tuesday, Oct. 15.
With Michaels out, the number one singles spot went to junior Kira Hamilton, who suffered an Achilles tendon and knee injury the following week against Corona del Mar and missed the next two tournaments.
Sophomore Ashley Shelton, the number two singles player, then suffered an abdominal strain and missed the same two tournaments. “At one point we were missing all four of them,” said Davis, who had to scramble to fill the empty slots with several JV players.
One of Davis’ emergency call-ups was sophomore Malia Helms, the number one singles player on the JV squad who was thrust into the varsity spotlight as a member of the number three doubles team with partner Iman Berri. “It’s just a great opportunity to play more, and I’m just getting a lot better from it,” said Helms, who found the transition from singles to doubles difficult at first. “It’s tough relying on someone else,” she said.
Helms got her first taste of tough, non-league competition when she and Berri dropped a close set 4-6 during Laguna’s 8-10 loss to Beckman on Oct. 7. “It’s probably a little bit of an eye opener for Malia, how strong and how good some of the players are [at the varsity level],” said Davis. “When we play outside of our league, it’s a whole different ballgame.”
Helms has since moved up to number two doubles with senior Stephanie Tat. In their first match together on Oct. 10, the duo blanked league rival Saddleback 6-0, 6-0, 6-0. “I have confidence she will do very well with Stephanie,” said Davis.
Michaels, a team captain, has made the best of her time on the sidelines. Ever the optimist, she always tries to pump up her teammates before matches. “We may not be winning as many points, but I definitely think our attitude has stayed positive,” she said. “Negativity gets you no where.”
And if Michaels sees someone getting down or frustrated with their play, she tries to get their attention and make them smile. “Automatically you see their games bump up when they smile,” she said.
Jaeger is happy to be back on the court after four weeks as a team cheerleader. “That first week was hard,” she said, although she was excited to see others like Helms get a chance to play. “I thought it was cool to see people step up.”
Through it all, the Breakers have managed an impressive 10-4 record, including a perfect 7-0 in league play as of Oct. 15. “I think all of our girls have a lot of desire, and they all have heart for the game,” said Michaels, who has high hopes for Laguna’s CIF chances.