It is rare that the Corona del Mar High boys' tennis team faces doubles teams that are playing better and more aggressively than the Sea Kings.
It is even more rare that the Sea Kings lose a Pacific Coast League match to Northwood.
The first rarity nearly led to the second on Wednesday afternoon at CdM. But the Sea Kings came up big in the end.
Senior captain Carson Williams and junior Jonny Rhone won the decisive doubles set as the Sea Kings edged the Timberwolves, 10-8, in the league opener for both schools.
Northwood Coach Eric Keith said it has been at least 10 years since his program has beaten CdM. The Timberwolves (6-2) came very close against the Sea Kings (6-1), who were missing their other senior captain, Josh Kliger (knee) for the second straight match.
Keith said he stacked his doubles, moving usual singles players Adrian Nilsson-Redman and Matt Prokop into doubles. It worked, as the visitors won six of nine doubles sets.
"There's always this kind of hierarchy in our league, and we know where we are usually," said Keith, whose team is always third place at best behind University and CdM. "But we knew we had a good combination this year. It played out the way we thought it was going to play out, we just needed a couple of other sets to go our way. Give credit to CdM."
The match definitely could have gone either way. It was tied 3-3 after the first round, as CdM sophomore Bjorn Hoffmann and juniors Ryan Andrews and Dan LaBruna all won in singles but Northwood won all three doubles sets.
The score was still 6-6 after the second round. But Hoffmann and Andrews, who both easily swept in singles, gave the Sea Kings eight total sets after winning in the third round.
Attention turned to doubles, where Northwood had early leads in each of the sets. As much as battling the Timberwolves, the Sea Kings seemed to be battling fatigue after a tough week of matches that included last week's win over Mira Costa and the National High School American Tournament, plus Tuesday's slight upset win at Los Alamitos.
The Sea Kings, ranked No. 5 in CIF Southern Section Division 1, edged No. 4 Los Al by the same 10-8 score.
Northwood is ranked No. 8 in Division 1. CdM again found a way to win in those final doubles matches Wednesday, even after Northwood's No. 1 team of Nathan Nguyen and Kevin Wong edged CdM sophomores Oliver Kim and Ari Coskinas, 6-4, to tie the match score at 8-8. Nguyen and Wong swept on the day.
Moments later, Williams and Rhone rallied to beat Nilsson-Redman and Akshay Harishankar, 6-4. The Sea Kings had more than enough games to earn the match victory, but the No. 2 team of junior Tyler Gaede and senior Samee Aboubakare gave CdM its 10th set. Gaede and Aboubakare beat Prokop and Chris Wang, 6-4.
"We were kind of tired, but we just played through it," Gaede said. "We lost the first round [today], and it made us want to play better in the second and third round.
"This season is different. In the past, we've never had to worry about losing to teams like these, because we always roll over them like 16-2 or something. Now, going into the third round tied 6-6, it's a pressure. We play better under pressure, I think."
The Sea Kings' match at Los Alamitos on Tuesday also was tied 6-6 going into the third round. Yet, for the second day in a row, the Sea Kings won the round — and the match.
"I think [the doubles teams] just played a little bit better and focused a little bit more, knowing how much was on the line," CdM Coach Jamie Gresh said. "I always try to do a good job of telling them where we're at in the match, how much needs to be done and how much their focus needs to raise at those critical times so we leave nothing on the table. I thought Carson and Jonny did a real good job of closing out that set after being down a break early, and Tyler and Samee did a good job of getting up a break, consolidating a couple of times and kind of riding out that match. [Northwood's] teams were playing very aggressive … we were having to play some defensive doubles out there and just fight for every point."
The Sea Kings get a well-deserved rest for the remainder of the week. Gresh said they'll have a light practice Thursday, and no practice on Friday.
"The guys need some time," Gresh said. "They're wiped, but we got exactly what we wanted out of this week."
Kliger got an MRI on his knee on Wednesday, Gresh said. The team hopes to have him back next week, when CdM plays at home against Irvine on Tuesday.