SAN CLEMENTE — Sage Hill School sophomores Amira Tarsadia and Natalie Meltzer each had different reasons to be nervous Wednesday afternoon at Rancho San Clemente Tennis Club.
The Lightning girls' tennis team was playing rival St. Margaret's in its league finale, and Coach A.G. Longoria paired Tarsadia and Meltzer together for the first time in doubles.
Tarsadia said she was a bit nervous because she went to St. Margaret's before high school. Meltzer was a bit apprehensive because this was the first time she had played the Tartans in a varsity match.
The two sophomores shined, winning two close sets that helped the Lightning claim the outright Academy League title with a 10-8 victory.
It is the first league title for Sage Hill (8-6, 8-0 in league), ranked No. 9 in CIF Southern Section Division 2, since 2007. No. 6-ranked St. Margaret's (5-2 in league) had won the last four league titles, going on to win a CIF championship each time. Three of the CIF title match victories came over the Lightning, who squandered match points in each one.
Longoria said the outright title should help for playoff seeding. But it also just felt good to beat a rival.
"It feels awesome to be the undisputed champions," Sage Hill senior captain Liana Korber said. "Going into this, we were like, 'Well, we're still going to get our year on the banner in the gym, we're still going to be champions.' But I wanted it for Sage. I didn't want to share the title; I wanted to win outright. As a senior, it feels so good to be undefeated in league. Finally."
Korber certainly did her part at No. 1 singles, winning 18 of 19 games. She easily swept before heading to Long Beach Airport, where she was to take a red-eye flight to the East Coast for official visits to Tufts University and MIT.
The sweep included a 6-1 victory over Tartans junior Tessa Hurr, who had defeated Korber twice earlier this year. That set, in the first round, helped Sage Hill take a 4-2 lead.
"I kept a level head this time," Korber said. "I knew I had it in me. The past two times, I just let everything get to my head and got really tight, really nervous. This time, I was still really nervous, but I just kept it on the down low and kept my cool."
The Lightning led 6-5 in sets before eyes turned to Tarsadia and Meltzer, who were locked in a battle with Lola Barnard and Caroline Smith of St. Margaret's. Smith served for the set at 6-5, but Tarsadia and Meltzer saved two set points to force a tiebreaker where they triumphed, 7-6 (7-4).
"We really had to focus and strategize a lot," said Meltzer, who was a substitute when Sage beat St. Margaret's by the same 10-8 score in the first league meeting Oct. 9. "If we didn't have a plan, then we wouldn't have done it. We both decided to stay back. We're both singles players ... and it was really fun because we're really good friends. We hang out all the time."
Sage Hill had a 7-5 lead, needing to win just three sets in the last round to clinch it. Korber quickly won the first, and then senior captain Lauren Hsu and freshman Jaclyn Gerschultz came through with a 6-4 victory over Smith and Barnard.
The Lightning suddenly had a 9-8 sets lead, and a five-game lead that was enough to clinch the match at that point. But Tarsadia and Meltzer again came out as winners anyway, outlasting Madeline Ursini and Delanie Melbon, 7-5, to give Sage Hill its 10th set.
Freshman Celine Wang won once at No. 2 singles for the Lightning. Hsu and Gerschultz won a pair of doubles sets, as did senior captain Kimberly Brown and Molly Wang.
For St. Margaret's, Smith, Ursini and Melbon are all Newport Beach residents, as are teammates Julia Mouchawar, Carly Page and Marissa Young.
Page and Zoe Oedekerk swept in doubles for the Tartans, just as they did in the teams' first league meeting. But it wasn't enough to stop Sage from taking the outright crown.
"We've been waiting all season for the sophomores to come through," Longoria said. "They finally did, and just at the right time. I think this bodes well for the playoffs ... I think we've found a solution for our No. 3 doubles. That was the missing link, and I think we found it today."