HUNTINGTON BEACH — Welcome to the Newport Harbor High boys' tennis season, where one of the top doubles players in Southern California can team with a football player.
It happened Thursday at Marina High. Newport junior Reese Stalder, ranked No. 4 in Southern California in boys' 18 doubles and No. 7 in singles, teamed up with tennis novice Garrett Hall, a senior running back and safety in football.
Stalder and Hall did well, sweeping for the Sailors at No. 3 doubles. Hall's mom, Cheryl, told her son that he should get something signed by Stalder that will be valuable when he's famous one day.
"I'll probably get my shoe signed by the end of the season," Garrett Hall said. "I'll probably get his shoe signed by the end of the season, actually."
In terms of the Sunset League standings, Newport Harbor moved a step ahead of Marina after posting a 12-6 victory. Halfway through the league schedule, Newport Harbor is in third place and Marina is in fourth, which is the way the standings finished last year as well. Only the top three teams in league earn guaranteed CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoff berths, though last year Marina earned an at-large entry.
"The first few [matches] of league, everyone's feeling each other out and getting used to who the top teams are," Hall said. "This is the type of [match], just like in any other sport, there's that one [match] that's kind of the defining moment of the season. You're either going to rise up and play at the level of CIF, or you're going to go down and not be able to play with these type of guys. This was a really big one for us."
Newport Harbor (10-3, 3-2 in league) was strong in doubles, winning eight of nine sets. Seniors Sean Perrier and Garrett Byers also swept at No. 1 doubles, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0. Perrier and Byers, two of the Sailors' three team captains, are now 34-5 this season as a doubles team.
The other team captain, junior David Schaefer, won twice at No. 2 doubles with senior Phillip Vu. Schaefer and Vu finished the match off, posting a 7-6 (7-3) win over Marina's duo of Josh Baar and David Tran.
Newport Harbor was up 4-2 after the first round and 7-5 after two rounds. The Sailors finished strong, winning five of six sets in the third round.
Schaefer remembers how the Sailors lost on games at Marina last year, after beating the Vikings comfortably at home.
"We lost this match last year, so we wanted to come back in here and get that win," he said.
Sophomore Gavin Leonard also won twice in singles, while junior Ryan Young and freshman David Lee won one set each for Newport Harbor. Coach Kristen Case liked the way her squad bounced back from league losses to Fountain Valley last week and Los Alamitos, 15-3, on Tuesday. The Griffins are ranked No. 2 in Orange County, and the Barons are No. 4.
"When you play people who play at that level, you only get better," Case said. "I think it was a blessing. It helped us for today. I give a lot of credit to the guys for their commitment and their effort level, because it has been our spring break. They've done a really great job of staying committed and dedicated to the group ... they've remained excited about it and had the right attitude, and I'm proud of them for that."
Stalder said he suffered an abdominal strain playing Monday in the first round of the prestigious Easter Bowl tournament in Indian Wells. He was forced to withdraw from the tournament and missed the Los Alamitos match, but was eased back into the lineup in doubles Thursday. It was his first time playing doubles in a dual match this season.
Stalder said the injury is a recurring one, but he hopes to be ready to play when the Woody Hunt tournament resumes next weekend in Palos Verdes. Stalder is the No. 2 seed. He also will be a high seed for the Ojai Junior Tournament, the prestigious event that begins April 24.
Brendan Barr swept in singles Thursday for Marina (11-4, 2-3), while Kevin Manouchehri won two sets. The Vikings were missing their top singles player, sophomore Max Cancilla, who is still competing at the Easter Bowl.
The Sailors have a break from matches next week and resume league play at home against Huntington Beach on April 21.