A two-hour bus ride to Santa Clarita last Monday did nothing to stop the momentum of the Laguna Beach girls tennis team, which scored a decisive 10-6 CIF quarterfinal victory over unranked Valencia High.
The victory earned the Breakers another long bus ride, this time to Arcadia, where they met second ranked and undefeated Arcadia High in the semifinals this past Wednesday, Nov. 7. The winner advanced to the Division II championship at Claremont Club on Friday, Nov. 9.
Regardless of how they faired since Monday, the Breaker’s semifinal appearance was their first since winning their 11th CIF title in 2005. Since that season, their last in the Pacific Coast League, they have won seven straight Orange Coast League titles, but they’ve only managed to make CIF quarterfinals twice over that span, having been bounced in the second round once and the first round three times.
The team’s resurgence this year is due, in part, to its move down from division one, where the Breakers had battled for 10 years against much larger schools. But the rest of the credit goes to a young, talented group of athletes who never stopped “encouraging each other to play our hardest and making what can be an individual sport really a team sport,” said senior and co-captain Chloe Mansour.
The Breakers bolted from the gate, knocking off Division II rival Sage Hill and Mater Dei by the same 10-8 score on back-to-back days to begin the season. They followed that with a tough tiebreaker loss to Edison before rebounding to beat Mission Viejo 12-6. “Best start in over seven years,” said second year Coach Don Davis at the time.
Still, Davis’ lineup remained unsettled as he waited to see who would step up to take the nine starting spots. “We’ve been using 11 girls. It doesn’t always make everybody happy, but that’s what I’ve been doing.” he said. “All 11 could easily be in the starting lineup.”
Laguna’s depth has been its strength all season. When one has an off day, someone else picks them up. Even among the top three singles players, junior Brooke Michaels, and sophomores Kira Hamilton and Bailey Jaeger, “it’s not always the same girl who has the best results,” said Davis. “They’ve all stepped up and won some key matches for us.”
Michaels missed five weeks after injuring her ankle in the season’s third match. She returned strong to take the league title, beating Jaeger in an all-Laguna final. Michaels continues to be the team’s number one singles player, with Hamilton and Jaeger almost interchangeable in the two and three slots. “Bailey Jaeger has done exceedingly well at singles this year,” said Davis. “She’s beaten some girls that the other girls in the singles rotation have lost to.”
When Mansour and fellow senior Dominique Willette take the court as Laguna’s number one doubles team, you can almost chalk up three points for the Breakers. Through last Monday, the duo has smoked the competition, dropping only one of 43 sets. “We can just count on them to win matches,” said Davis.
The two didn’t play together until this summer, when Willette, who was born in Laguna, returned after 10 years living in Costa Rica. They quickly became good friends, and even more quickly became exceptional doubles partners, taking the league title. “We’re two very different players,” said Mansour. “But together it somehow works.”
With the score tied 8-8 in Laguna’s second round CIF victory over Santa Monica, Mansour/Willette put on a furious rally, climbing out of a 2-5 hole in their final set to post a dramatic 7-5 win.
Meanwhile, junior Stephanie Tat and freshman Ashley Shelton battled back from their own 2-5 deficit to take the final set of the match 7-5 and give Laguna a 10-8 win. “To do that twice in one team match, that’s pretty amazing,” said Davis.
Their stirring comeback over Santa Monica in round two ignited the Breakers in the quarterfinals. “They came out [Monday] all fired up and playing well,” said Davis. “It was a great team effort, and that’s what a coach always likes to see.”
“You can be down, but as long as you keep trying the whole time, anything can happen,” said Mansour.
That goes for a game, a set, a match and a season.
Laguna Beach d. Valencia 12-6
#1 Singles – Brooke Michaels (6-2), (4-6), (6-2)
#2 Singles – Kira Hamilton (6-3), (6-3), (4-6)
#3 Singles – Bailey Jaeger (6-2), (5-7), (6-1)
#1 Doubles – Chloe Mansour/Dominique Willette (6-4), (6-1), (6-0)
#2 Doubles – Katelyn Bo/Sarah Nederlander (6-2), (3-6)
#2 Doubles – Katelyn Bo/Natasha Keces (3-6)
#3 Doubles – Ashley Shelton/Madeline Loomis (7-6)
#3 Doubles – Ashley Shelton/Stephanie Tat (4-6), (6-1)