Around the start of Thursday's nonleague match, Palos Verdes High boys' tennis coach Danny Moscovici had a question for Corona del Mar Coach Jamie Gresh.
Moscovici inquired about the whereabouts of CdM junior Chaz Downing, an integral part of the teams that reached the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title match each of the last two years.
Gresh said that Downing is not playing high school tennis this season, choosing to focus on junior tournaments.
Palos Verdes took advantage at the CdM courts, winning seven singles sets to post a 10-8 victory in the battle of schools with Sea Kings as mascots.
Besides the loss of Downing, Corona del Mar (2-1) is younger this year, returning just four starters from last year's team. High school All-American Alec Adamson graduated and now plays at UC Davis, while the doubles team of Paul Kacik and Andrew Nguyen also graduated. In addition, Gresh lost versatile sophomore Pedro Fernandez, whose family moved to Florida.
Palos Verdes (5-0), which could be ranked at No. 2 in the initial Division 1 poll when it is released Monday, has six senior starters. Two of them, University of Washington-bound Jake Douglas and Boston College-bound Kent Mukai, easily swept in singles Thursday. And sophomore Brandon Holt also easily won twice before being subbed out.
Last year, CdM lost a dual match to no other team besides league rival University, including a 14-4 romp over Palos Verdes. But times have changed.
"They all were healthy, playing really solid," Moscovici said of his singles lineup. "Not seeing Chaz Downing in the lineup kind of gave us confidence, obviously. One less strong player to play against. But singles played really well. We've got to do some work in the doubles, but I give credit to Corona's doubles. They looked sharper than we did today."
CdM senior captains Carson Williams and Josh Kliger easily swept at No. 1 doubles, 6-3, 6-0, 6-2. And senior Samee Aboubakare and junior Tyler Gaede also swept at No. 2 doubles.
But Palos Verdes' No. 3 team of Trent Wong and Kevin Jiao edged a tiebreaker win over CdM's Jonny Rhone and Oliver Kim in the first round, helping the visitors take a 4-2 advantage. Palos Verdes broke even in both of the final two rounds, but that was enough to earn the victory.
"I kind of expected this type of match, just from the guys they're returning from last year," Gresh said. "They put out the lineup I expected. They went singles heavy, and I tried to counter that with an extra guy in doubles, with Jonny at third doubles. I think we played the lineup that was right, for the lineup that they played. We just were going to need probably eight or nine doubles [sets] and at least two singles."
Rhone and Kim won one set, coming back in the second round to post a 7-6 (7-5) victory over Dariush Jalali and Dean Dellovade.
"That's a team that hasn't played that much together, Jonny and Oliver, and I thought they played really well today," Gresh said. "It doesn't show up in the box score, but the level of play was high. My doubles looked really good ... I thought our guys competed really well. High intensity and high focus, and the level of play was real quality throughout. Their singles were just too tough. They had us outgunned."
CdM sophomore Bjorn Hoffmann, who has moved into the No. 1 singles spot, won his final set against a Palos Verdes substitute. Juniors Ryan Andrews and Dan LaBruna also battled all afternoon at No. 2 and 3 singles, respectively.
Gresh said he also has sophomore Ari Coskinas in the mix for playing time. Coskinas is the younger brother of CdM senior girls' water polo player Marina Coskinas.
Corona del Mar has a big week next week, playing at Fountain Valley at Tuesday before playing at home against Mira Costa on Thursday. The latter match is a rematch of last year's CIF quarterfinal match, won by CdM, 13-5. Then the Sea Kings play in the annual National High School All-American Tournament next weekend.
"It almost is going to be a little motivation, to spur them on," Gresh said of Thursday's loss. "They know what my expectations are, and they're ready for the challenge."