NEWPORT BEACH — The biggest rival for any Sage Hill School team is always St.. Margaret's.
It's hard to have a rivalry when one team always wins.
But the Sage Hill girls' tennis team ended five years of frustration Tuesday afternoon with its 10-8 victory at The Tennis Club Newport Beach. The Lightning did what no team had done in the Academy League since 2007 — defeat the Tartans.
The league title streak is in jeopardy for St. Margaret's, the four-time defending league and CIF champions. The Lightning were glad to be the ones to do the honors.
"The Sage-St. Margaret's rivalry is always the biggest match of the season, every time we play," said Sage Hill senior Liana Korber, who won two sets at No. 1 singles. "It feels really good to finally get the win in there, somewhere in those four years. I mean, I'm so proud of all of us. I feel like my teammates that graduated, I did them well. We all did. I couldn't be happier with how we played."
The rivalry runs deeper than league. Three times in the last four years, the Tartans defeated Sage in a tight CIF championship match at The Claremont Club. St. Margaret's saved at least two match points each time.
The CIF title wins for St. Margaret's — the last two coming via winning on games in Division 3 — were part of an impressive 100-match winning streak which was snapped earlier this year.
"It feels good to have gone through those two CIF finals, where we lost to St. Margaret's on games, and to finally come out with a really tight win," Korber said. "It feels really nice to be on the other side of that. And we've earned it. We've worked so hard."
Now Sage (4-6, 4-0 in league) is in a position to win its first league title in five years. The Lightning rematch with St. Margaret's (7-4, 3-1) in the league finale, Oct. 17 at Rancho San Clemente Tennis and Fitness Club.
Tuesday's match was a team victory for Sage Hill, ranked No. 9 in CIF Southern Section Division 2. Nobody swept, yet everybody got at least one set win.
Freshman Celine Wang won twice at No. 2 singles, and senior Kimia Vakili won a set at No. 3 singles.
Senior Lauren Hsu and freshman Jaclyn Gerschultz won twice at No. 1 doubles by 6-0 scores. Gerschultz said she is a standout softball pitcher and shortstop, but Sage Hill does not have a softball program so she started playing more tennis recently.
"She's also a black belt in karate, and I'm sure she'll be a starter on the soccer team," Sage Hill Coach A.G. Longoria said. "We call her the mini-Ava, because Ava [Soleimany] was the Female Athlete of the Year last year [at Sage Hill]. She's got that same mentality ... that killer mentality."
Seniors Kimberly Brown and Molly Wang also won twice at No. 2 doubles. Sophomores Tess Alexander and Amira Tarsadia earned an important first-round tiebreaker victory at No. 3 doubles, helping the Lightning grab a 4-2 lead.
They led 7-5 after the second round and had enough games to feel good about the situation. As Longoria noted, his team lost no sets by a 6-0 score, yet they earned four "bagel" wins.
"Everybody contributed," Longoria said. "Our No. 1 goal was to not give up a love set. I figured it was going to go 9-9, if we had a chance."
St. Margaret's got a somewhat surprising appearance by senior captain Zoe Oedekerk, who swept at No. 2 doubles with Newport Beach resident Carly Page. St. Margaret's No. 1 singles player Tessa Hurr, who also swept, said she wasn't sure that Oedekerk (back) would suit up for the Tartans.
St. Margaret's features five other Newport Beach residents: Delanie Melbon, Julia Mouchawar, Caroline Smith, Madeline Ursini and Marissa Young. Smith and Ursini won one set at No. 1 doubles, and Mouchawar won once at No. 2 singles.
Hurr said the Tartans, ranked No. 6 in Division 2, were also missing senior Arin Melkonian (back). Sophomore Deena Fatehi, who was another starter for St. Margaret's, recently transferred to Santa Margarita.
"I mean, it's tough," Hurr said. "This is a young team, so a lot of the players haven't been used to [tough league matches]. But It's OK. We all know that we've worked really hard, and we'll get to see them again next week. It'll be at our home courts, so hopefully we get a lot of backing from our school there."
The Lightning, who are also young, have also worked hard.
Senior starters like Korber, Hsu and Brown, who together comprise Sage Hill's three captains, won't soon forget Tuesday's match.
"It's really gratifying, actually," Hsu said. "We've always been so close in the CIF finals. It's just like, 'Finally,' that sort of feeling. It's my senior year, and it's my birthday next week, so it's a good present."