Heading into the final three weeks of the regular season, the Half Moon Bay girls' tennis team was in prime position to capture the Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division title. The Cougars headed into Tuesday's match with a perfect 9-0 record.
The Cougars had one last major obstacle standing between them and the championship — second-place Sequoia, which hosted Half Moon Bay yesterday. Sequoia, which had lost to Half Moon Bay and South City this season, needed a win and then some help down the stretch if the Cherokees wanted to have a shot at catching the Cougars.
Half Moon Bay was having no part of that, however, as the Cougars won 5-2.
"I knew we had a deep team. No one was exceptionally good, but everyone had strokes,” said Half Moon Bay coach Carole Donahue. "they're really dedicated girls. Really sweet. It's been an absolute joy to coach them. They want to be out here and they all want to win.”
Making the Cougars' accomplishments even more impressive is the fact that four freshmen have played key roles in the team's ascension to the top of the Ocean Division standings.
"We have a lot of good (tennis) coaches on the coast,” Donahue said. "A lot of good programs to get (kids) started (playing tennis).”
That was put into even clearer focus Tuesday when one of those freshmen, Nina Bachicha, had to fill in for No. 1 singles player Rina Haack, who was out. The Cougars' nominal No. 2 singles, Bachicha didn't blink an eye. She went out and beat Sequoia's No. 1 Sadie Rehn, 6-0, 6-3.
Not only was Bachicha playing up a spot, it forced all the other Cougars' singles players to move up, but other than a stumble by freshman Natalie Barger, who fell to Sequoia's Sara Ciambrone 7-5, 6-2, Half Moon Bay's other freshmen played well.
Erika Haak won at No. 4 singles with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Natalie Clark, while Ally Boville teamed up with Julie Sorfleet at No. 3 doubles to win 6-3, 6-4 over Raveen Johall and Carolyn Burtt.
Donahue believes pushing her players during practice has paid off during matches. She said she doesn't have one set lineup she rolls out every match. Players are constantly challenging for the spot ahead of them, while also fending off those players below them on the ladder. All that competitive sharpens their play for matches.
"We have a fluid roster,” Donahue said. "We have a lot of movement. [The players] always complain in the beginning, but they have to compete. It toughens them up for the season.”
While Sequoia would have loved to knock off the undefeated Cougars, coach Phil McKenney is just happy to be in the spot his team is in. Last year, the Cherokees won only two league matches.
"Last year, I was hired the day of our first match,” McKenney said. "I took an hour to round up a team … and we limped through the season.”
But McKenney has a goal of advancing the Cherokees to the Bay Division and he is just starting to build the foundation. Last year, he had 10 players on the team. This year, that number jumped up to 22. He thought the Cherokees might contend for the Ocean championship this year — until his team lost 6-1 to Half Moon Bay the first time around.
"I saw this (Half Moon Bay) team and recognized them as being one of the better teams,” McKenney said. "(But) my team has progressed and gotten better over the last eight weeks. We built (this match) up to be the biggest match of the season. We had an opportunity to take down an undefeated team.”
The Cherokees have improved, just not enough to stop Half Moon Bay. Sequoia did take one more match from the Cougars than they did the first time around, getting their second point from the No. 2 doubles team of Sesilia Lauese and Sara Cunningham, who beat Lena Nguyen and Tiana Spano 6-3, 7-5. The No. 1 doubles match was won by Half Moon Bay's Liz Boville and Marci Springer, 6-0, 7-6(7-5) over Lauren Newman and Alex Hibbert. Melanie Woechtler gave Half Moon Bay three of the four singles points with a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 win over Julie Self.