Laguna Doubles Teams Finish 3rd and 4th in TVL League Individuals

After coming in with the #1 and #4 seeds in the doubles draw of the Tri-Valley League Individuals tournament, the Owls managed to snag third and fourth this week to end the 2021 season.

TVL Individuals, Early Rounds

Laguna Blanca School fielded the 11-1 senior doubles team of Ryan Purkait and Nic Richmond as the #1 seed in the tournament. As such, they were the last doubles team to take the courts on what was an unusually mild May day in Ojai, where Villanova played host.

Before Purkait and Richmond got to start their tournament, freshman/junior combo Keanu Nakamura/Ben Rodgers opened play as the #4 seed (5-1 in league play). Their seeding resulted in a very tough first-round match-up against Cate #3 singles player Will Vanica and freshman standout doubles player Ethan Bloom.

The fourth-seeded Owls team came through with a decisive 6-4, 6-3 victory over the Cate team, leading the entire match. This set up a semifinal clash with the only undefeated team in the draw, Foothill Tech’s #1 doubles team. Meanwhile, Laguna Blanca’s singles entrants Kai Suzuki and Aden Meisel fought gamely in the play-in round, but were unable to defeat their opponents in 8-game pro-sets.

Meisel got off to a rough start, dropping three games quickly, before changing strategies and taking four of the next nine games to lose 4-8. Suzuki played very well in the early-going, taking a 6-3 lead over Foothill Tech’s James Sokoloski, but the Laguna junior struggled to close the match out and faded to a 6-8 loss.

TVL Individuals, Later Rounds

Purkait and Richmond won their quarterfinal match against the Villanova #1 doubles team 6-4, 6-4, but looked far from their dominant regular-season best. This manifested itself again in their semifinal match against #3-seeded Cate seniors Lucian Prinz and Michael Armstrong, who they had defeated early in the season.

After taking a 5-2 lead in the first set, the Owls senior duo struggled with execution, seeing the Cate team recover for a 7-5 win and go up 5-2 in the second. Purkait and Richmond rallied to 4-5, but could not force the third set from Prinz and Armstrong, who closed the match out with a hold-of-serve.

Nakamura and Rodgers faced a stiff challenge from the top Foothill Tech team, who would go on to become this year’s league champions with a win over Prinz/Armstrong. The team of Pascal Hayward and Eesh Manwani played a very loud and aggressive style, and though the Laguna boys pushed Hayward and Manwani with many excellent points, they eventually fell 6-4, 6-3.

TVL Individuals, Laguna v. Laguna

The proceedings of Day One of the Tri-Valley League Individuals Tournament led to a matchup between the two Laguna teams for 3rd place in league and the final All-League First-Team designation.

Played at Furukawa Tennis Gardens on the Laguna Blanca campus, 3rd place match saw a resurgence from Nic Richmond and Ryan Purkait, who reversed a loss from earlier in the week to their younger teammates in practice. The seniors regained their best tennis to defeat Rodgers and Nakamura by a final score of 6-4, 6-1.

The result is Richmond and Purkait picking up All-League First-Team honors for the first time as they move on to college, while Rodgers and Nakamura get their first All-League Second-Team honors. Certainly the younger duo will be in the mix for future Tri-Valley League honors.

Owls Get Big Win Over Villanova to End Season

Laguna Blanca boys’ tennis picked up their best win of the season in their final league match, taking a 12-6 victory over visiting Villanova.

How the Match Unfolded

The Owls struck first with 6-0 victories from Aden Meisel at #3 singles and from Ben Rodgers/Keanu Nakamura at #3 doubles. Seniors Nic Richmond and Ryan Purkait continued their dominance over Tai-Valley League opponents with a 6-3 win over the Villanova #1’s before Timmy Quest finally broke the Laguna stranglehold on the match with a victory at #1 singles.

Junior Kai Suzuki and sophomore/freshman combo Cody Busch-Weiss/Jake Gidney found themselves locked in tight sets at the #2 positions. Suzuki squandered a 5-2 lead, going down 5-6 before righting the ship and taking a gutsy 7-2 tie-breaker against Tristan Montecino, a tournament-level player at Nova #2. Busch-Weiss and Gidney rallied to take their own tie-breaker, winning 8-6 and giving Laguna a 5-1 lead after the first round-of-play.

Laguna continued to roll in doubles, finishing with a eight sets on the day, while the singles results were more mixed. Meisel and senior Andreas Jackson both battled to 4-6 losses against Montecino and Quest, currently ranked in the top-200 in the country was unstoppable. However, Jackson and third-round substitute George Nicks both took wins against the Villanova #3 position to bring the singles to 4-5 overall and assure a healthy victory margin for the Owls.

The win means the Owls finish the season with a winning record for the 10th consecutive year, going 3-2 in what was a COVID-shortened season.

Coach Thorpe’s Comments

This was definitely our strongest showing on the season. We were disappointed to be short our two strongest players in our match against Foothill Tech a few weeks back and they managed to get to our Cate match last week, but had to play on guts alone after two weeks off the courts. Now that we’re back to full strength and had that tight Cate match under our belts, I had a feeling the guys were going to pick up a big win today and they did not disappoint!.

Villanova has two very strong singles players and they’d gone 8-10 against Cate just like us, so I honestly thought there was a good chance we’d be counting games at the end of the day to decide the winner. We really showed our depth though, with doubles utterly dominant and singles holding their own. Kai played like an absolute beast early against their #2, but it was the way he recomposed himself when he lost the 5-2 lead and faced a match point that impressed me most.

What’s Next for the Owls

While the team season is now complete, a small contingent of players will continue on to Tai-Valley League Individuals next Wednesday at Villanova High School, where Richmond and Nicks are likely to be the #1 seed in the doubles draw.

Laguna Boys Drop 8-10 Cliff-Hanger at Cate School

Laguna Blanca boys’ tennis fielded its full starting lineup for the first time this season and took undefeated Cate School to the wire with an 8-10 loss.

How the match unfolded

The first round of play was a story of singles versus doubles. Cate swept the singles sets 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, while visiting Laguna Blanca matched the effort with 7-6, 6-1, 6-4 set-wins in doubles. The last match on court was the #1 doubles position, where former Laguna Blanca student Lucian Prinz looked to defeat his good friends Ryan Purkait and Nic Richmond, the #1 doubles team for the Owls. It was not to be though, as Purkait and Richmond won the “battle-of-the-buddies” to even the match at 3-3 after the opening round.

The second round opened with Laguna trailing by just a single game, in the event of a 9-9 tie, and it became clear that every set (and every game) would be critical. Cate struck first with a 6-0 victory from the #1 singles player Jin-Ming Wang, also a former Laguna student (and participant in a number of Thorpe Tennis after school programs). The Rams also registered a 6-0 victory from their #2 singles player against Laguna senior Andreas Jackson.

The Owls rallied, however, taking wins at #1 and #2 doubles in convincing fashion. Meanwhile, junior Kai Suzuki landed the first singles win for Laguna on the day with a 6-4 set over Cate’s #3 singles player, Will Vanica. Shortly thereafter, frosh combo Jake Gidney/Cody Busch-Weiss succumbed to the Cate #1’s, despite putting up a very respectable 3-6 set.

After two rounds of play, Laguna and Cate were locked in a 6-6 tie, with the Rams holding a narrow two-game advantage in the event of a tie. Cate struck first with Wang taking a 6-0 victory over a fading Suzuki, but Jackson lifted the Owls hopes with a 6-2 set over Vanica. In the remaining singles set, Laguna sophomore Aden Meisel battled back from 1-4 and 2-5 down to reach 4-5. The Cate #2 looked to be on the edge of collapse, but held it together to close out Meisel, leaving the score 7-8 with the three doubles sets still in action.

Over on the #2 doubles court, Ben Rodgers and Keanu Nakamura found themselves behind for the first time on the day. The pair looked solid in 6-1, 6-4 wins through the earlier rounds, but got down 0-3 against the Cate #1’s and could not pull it back.

Richmond and Purkait also found themselves ceding the first few games, but they rallied heartily and took the overall score to 8-9 winning six of the last eight games played. All attention turned to Laguna’s young #3 pairing playing against the Cate #2’s. Gidney and Busch-Weiss held their own, taking the Cate team to the limit, but in the end didn’t have enough to get the win. The Ram’s #2 duo clinched the 10-8 win with a 6-4 final set score.

Coach Thorpe’s Comments

This was an absolutely thrilling match to watch. Getting to be part of such a competitive high school match between two teams with a lot of depth was definitely the highlight of the season so far. Our guys were solid throughout.

Nic and Ryan were unbeatable at #1 doubles, Keanu overcame injury to partner with Ben and grab two key sets, and Jake and Cody showed that they can be competitive against even the toughest opponents. In singles, Andreas and Kai took big wins for us and Aden showed a lot of character the way he battled back and pushed is third opponent to the brink.

We took a big step forward as a team in this match, going toe-to-toe with a team we haven’t been able to defeat since 2013. That year, our #1 singles player was Tristan Prinz, older bro to Lucian Prinz, who was playing #1 doubles for Cate. Having coached the Prinz family since 2011, it was great to see Lucian closing out his senior season on a good level, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Ryan and Nic get the W at #1 doubles against him!

After last years “COVID season,” and having dealt with injury and illness amongst our top guys so far this season, this match has re-invigorated Owls Tennis and shown us the level we’re capable of. It has also re-ignited a healthy rivalry between Laguna and Cate boys’ tennis that looks set to continue next season, with both teams returning a number of key players.

What’s next for the Owls?

Laguna Blanca boys’ tennis will play their last match of the season on Wednesday, May 5th against visiting Villanova High School. Villanova features an undefeated #1 singles player and a second strong singles player, but the Owls have the depth to get the job done. Certainly, the very competitive match against Cate will have raised their level.

Match Week 2: Cate Girls Go 2-0, Laguna Boys split while playing short-handed

It was a busy week for Coach Thorpe, with four matches in five days that also included a match between Cate and Laguna Blanca, but there will be little respite as the same is scheduled for the following week. On to the recaps!

Monday, April 19: Cate d. Providence 14-4

Cate Girls’ Tennis played Providence High School for the first time and came out with a convincing victory. Read more about it here.

Wednesday, April 21: Foothill Tech d. Laguna Blanca 12-6

The Owls took their first defeat of the season while playing short-handed. Freshman #1 Keanu Nakamura lost a tight 4-6 set in the first round before subbing out and Laguna struggled for wins in singles. Senior Andreas Jackson picked up the lone win with a 6-2 victory against the Dragons #3 player.

In doubles, the Owls faired much better, taking 5-of-9 sets despite going winless against Foothill’s #1 team.

Senior combo Ryan Purkait and Nic Richmond took 6-1, 6-0 victories and junior/sophomore combo Ben Rodgers and Aden Meisel added two wins. In the first round, Rodgers and Meisel battled to an 11-9 tie-break win against the Foothill #2 before cruising to a 6-0 win in the third round. George Nicks and Cody Busch-Weiss added a 6-4 set against the #3’s to the Laguna win-column.

Thursday, April 22: Cate d. Laguna Blanca 12-6

Despite winning just one game in three sets against Laguna’s freshman #1 Mina Yazadzhiev, Cate managed to put another match in the win column.

Buoyed by sweeps at #1 and #2 doubles, Cate finished the match with seven wins in doubles and five in singles for a 12-6 final score.

Senior Fritze Mayer and junior Emily May won their sets 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 to move to 7-0 on the season, while senior/junior combo Yuki Kobayashi and Ashi Kamra won 6-4, 6-0, 6-1. Kamra is now a perfect 9-0 on the season. Julianna Forry and Sophie Alijani added a 7-5 win in the first round.

Juniors Aminah Hill and Ellie Tunnell each finished the day 2-1, while sophomore Ella Chang rallied from losses in the first two rounds to defeat the Laguna #2 6-3 in the final round of play.

Cate moves to 3-0 with the win and will play next on Monday, April 26th against an undefeated Foothill Tech team that threatens to end a 44-match win-streak in Tri-Valley League play that stretches all the way back to 2014.

Friday, April 23: Laguna Blanca d. St. Bonaventure 14-4

The Owls tasted victory for the second time this season (2-1 overall) with a convincing victory over short-handed St. Bonny, who had to forfeit all three rounds at #2 and #3 doubles. The match was anything but boring though, as Bonny fielded a solid singles lineup and a determined #1 doubles team.

The stand-out performance of the day came from sophomore Aden Meisel, playing at the #3 singles position for the first time. After watching his teammates fall to the #1 singles player from St. Bonaventure 4-6 and 0-6, Meisel turned it around for the Owls with a 6-4 victory in the last match of the day. The Laguna sophomore finished the day undefeated with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 line.

Laguna took two-of-three in doubles, with Ryan Purkait and Nic Richmond collecting a 6-1 win and frosh combo Cody Busch-Weiss and Jake Gidney also defeating the Bonny #1’s with a 6-4 score.

In singles, senior Andreas Jackson took two-of-three and looked to be building back some of his old form after a long layoff from regular competitive play, while junior Ben Rodgers took a nice 6-4 victory over the St. Bonaventure #2.

Laguna Blanca plays next on Friday, April 30th in the second Laguna/Cate rivalry matchup, where Coach Thorpe will hope to turn the tide for the Owls, who lost to his Cate girls’ team earlier in the week. Confused yet? So am I! So am I. What a crazy year this has been over at Thorpe Tennis!

Match Week 1: Cate Earns Clean Sweep, Laguna Off-And-Running

For the first time in 12 seasons of coaching the girls’ tennis program at Cate and boys’ tennis at Laguna Blanca, both teams are in-season at the same time. The move from fall to spring play for girls’ tennis certainly has complicated things, but the juggling act has worked so far!

We have now completed Week 1 of what will be a four-week mad-dash of match-play and it was a strong one for both of my teams.

Thursday, April 15: Cate d. St. Bonaventure 18-0

Cate Girls’ Tennis picked up right where we left off, notching a 43rd consecutive league victory over visiting St. Bonaventure High School. The Servons surrendered just six games en-route to a clean sweep victory.

Cate was led by Aminah Hill, who returns for her third year as a mainstay in the singles lineup, while senior Fritze Mayer and her partner Emily May held down the top spot in doubles. Mayer and her co-captain Yuki Kobayashi are two of three seniors featuring in the Cate lineup this season, along with Madeline Vanica.

The Servons play next on Monday, April 19th at the Santa Barbara Municipal Courts in a rescheduled match against Providence High School, an opponent Cate has not yet faced in high school match-play.

Friday, April 16: Laguna Blanca d. Bishop Diego 11-7

The Owls opened their 2021 season playing short a few players, but came through with a nice 11-7 win against visiting Bishop Diego.

Bishop’s lineup featured one of the top junior players in Santa Barbara County (and an alum of my summer tennis camps!!!) in Luke Williams, who went 3-0 on the day. However, freshman Keanu Nakamura showed flashes of his talent even in his first high school match, playing Williams close in the opening games and pushing his opponent to top-speed.

Laguna did manage to pick up four wins in singles, with #2 singles player Kai Suzuki opening his junior season with a pair of victories. Senior Rodrick Zhu and sophomore Kent Dunn added to the tally with a win each.

The match was won though with dominance from the Owls in doubles player. Co-captains Nic Richmond and Ben Rodgers got the lone win on the day against the Bishop #1’s who normally play #2 and #3 singles for the Cardinals. Outside the top-line, it was all W’s for Laguna Blanca, leading to a total of seven wins on that half of the scorecard.

Laguna plays next at home on Wednesday, April 21st against league-rival Foothill Tech. When these teams last met, it was with a playoff spot on the line during the 2019 season. The Owls took that match 10-8 and went on to reach the CIF Quarterfinals with a strong playoff run!

Owls Move to 2-0 with 15-3 Road Win

Laguna Blanca made it two-for-two in early-season matches, taking a 15-3 victory over Cabrillo High School in Lompoc today.

The win was bolstered by three 6-0 sets from Ryan Purkait at the #2 singles position. Purkait, a junior who spent the majority of the last two seasons at #1 doubles, is now 6-0 on the season as a singles player.

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Owls Open Season with 13-5 Win Over Rival Santa Ynez High

The Laguna Blanca Owls boys’ tennis team got the season off to a winning start with a 13-5 victory over visiting Santa Ynez High School (1-1).

How it Happened:

The first round of play was very even, with Santa Ynez taking early leads at #2 singles and #2 and #3 doubles and Laguna up by small margins in the other sets. However, the Owls overcame the overall the “beginning-of-season-jitters” to take all but the #3 doubles for a 5-1 lead.

From there, Laguna continued to roll, winning the second and third rounds 4-2, thanks to six set-wins in singles and seven in doubles.
Junior Ryan Purkait recorded a 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 sweep while playing at the #3 singles position, while junior/senior combo Nic Richmond and Kevin Khodabandehlou swept with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 showing on the day.

The Owls also got two of three from John-Henry Schulz in singles, as well as doubles pairings Rodrick Zhu/Owen Pryor and Ben Rodgers/Aiden Meisel. Senior captain Kai Nakamura took an important 7-5 victory at the #1 singles position, despite illness, and finished 1-1 on the day.

Coach Thorpe’s Comments:

To be honest, the first match of the season is always a bit of a question mark, so I was super impressed by the level my guys showed in this season-opener. The match was very close early on and, of course, everyone’s going to be nervous, but they came through and took control of the match.

 I was particularly pleased with the way Ryan played in what was essentially his singles debut for our team. In doubles, there was a ton of good stuff going on, but I saw major improvement in particular from Rodrick; the kid abhorred doubles last season, but he stepped up big-time for us today and showed us how hard he’s been working since the end of last season.

What’s next for the Owls?

Laguna Blanca will play away on Thursday against Cabrillo High School in Lompoc at 3pm.

Laguna Blanca Surges to CIF Quarterfinals

ORG_DSC00096Laguna Blanca advanced to the CIF D4 Playoffs Quarterfinal Round for the second consecutive year with a 13-5 victory over rival Rio Mesa of Oxnard. The teams have played each other in each of the last five seasons, with every match decided 10-8 or 9-9, including a 10-8 win for Laguna earlier this season.

How it Happened

Rio Mesa relied on their nationally-ranked top player Andy Hess to put the first set on the board, though Alex Furukawa gave Hess a strong challenge in the second half of the set. After going down 0-3 in the first five minutes of play, Furukawa began to find his rhythm, taking two games and creating a number of opportunities for himself through aggressive play.

Laguna’s top doubles pairing, seniors Conor Scheinberg and Jason Barnick began the match at #3 doubles, making a quick response to Hess’s 6-2 win with a 6-0 win of their own.

At the end of round one, Laguna took a 4-2 lead on the back of a tie-break win from senior Kelvin Chen and freshman Ryan Purkait, who fought back from a 2-4 deficit. “I’m just so thankful to have all my teammates standing there and cheering for us,” said the senior at the end of the match. In what was a very tight set, Chen and Purkait came through at all the critical moments, buoyed by the support of their teammates.

Victor Liu (pictured above) had a stand-out performance on the day, with the senior taking two-of-three sets and beating two players he had lost two earlier in the season. After his victory over Rio #2 Andrew Diaz, Laguna Blanca continued to roll, finishing the second round-of-play with an 8-4 lead.

In the final round, only Rio’s Andy Hess was able to take set from the Owls. Despite having a solid lead, Laguna continued to compete at a high level, not only to ensure victory, but to practice strategies that might be useful down the line.

Scheinberg and Barnick completed a sweep of their three sets, avenging a 4-6 loss against the #1 Rio combo with a 6-3 victory. After trailing 0-2 earlier, the veteran Owls rallied and looked dominant, winning six of the next seven games. This match appeared to be a turning point for the seniors, who had struggled against opponent #1 teams throughout the season.

Coach’s Notes

I’m so proud of the way my guys competed today. This was our best performance of the season and it came against a tough opponent at an important time. We’ve been on the cusp of reaching another level for most of the season and today we found that extra level.

The difference was the way we supported each other, which I think led to more engagement. This was the first match that really felt like full-on playoff intensity from all our guys. All ten of our guys were totally committed on the court and they got great energy from the rest of the team looking on.

We’re looking forward to another CIF Quarterfinals appearance on Monday and hoping to take it a step further.

What’s Next?

Laguna Blanca will play away against the #4-seeded Laguna Beach at 3pm on Monday.

Laguna Take CIF 1st Round Win in Desert Heat

As the hills parted and Laguna Blanca School vans descended into the Antelope Valley, temperatures touched triple digits on the dash display. Intermittent gusts of wind would provide an occasional break from the blistering heat, but came with their own complications, as tennis is never easy in the wind.

Laguna Blanca @ Quartz Hill, 11-7 Win

The Owls jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the match, but four of those five sets were decided by two games or less. The momentum shifted significantly, with Quartz Hill taking five of the next seven sets to make it 7-5 Laguna after two rounds-of-play.

In the third, Conor Scheinberg and Jason Barnick took their set, with Kevin Khodabandehlou and third-round substitute John-Henry Schulz also finishing with a win just seconds later. Alex Furukawa won the match-clinching 10th set soon after, while Kai Nakamura added another win for good measure.

Coach’s Notes

I’m very pleased with the way my top singles and doubles positions took care of business today. Overall, it was an uneven performance for us, with lots of good runs mixed in with too many lapses, so to get sweeps at the #1 position in singles and doubles was huge.

What’s Next in the Playoffs

Laguna will play at home on Friday at 3pm against Rio Mesa, a team they narrowly beat during the regular season (10-8). Rio and Laguna are two of five teams from the Santa Barbara/Ventura County Area still alive in the CIF D4 Round-of-16, with Carpinteria, Nordhoff, and Santa Ynez also winning yesterday. Santa Ynez would be the likely next opponent should Laguna Blanca win on Friday.

Catching Up with the Owls at Playoff Time

ORG_DSC00093It’s been over a month since the last update on Laguna Blanca’s season. In the meantime, the Owls went 9-1 to finish the regular season 14-2, garnering the #5-seed for CIF D4. It is their 5th consecutive season ranking amongst the top-10 teams in the division.

CIF Wildcard Round: Laguna Blanca v. Lompoc High, 17-1 Win

As part of being a freelance team, despite being seeded within the playoff tournament draw, Laguna Blanca needed to play in the Tuesday Wildcard Round. The match, played at home against Lompoc High School, was a show of force for the Owls, who dropped just one set and spread the wins amongst 13 players.

Alex Furukawa (pictured above), who has played #1 singles since early in the season, led the team with 6-0, 6-1 victories before being substituted out. Victor Liu also won two rounds before subbing out, while sophomore Kai Nakamura played all three rounds for easy victories, dropping just three games along the way.

In doubles, the senior combo of Conor Scheinberg/Jason Barnick and senior/freshman pairing of Kelvin Chen/Ryan Purkait defeated Lompoc’s #1 team, with Chen and Purkait staying in all three rounds to complete a sweep on the day.

Sophomore Kevin Khodabandehlou and freshman Nic Richmond combined for the first time this season to win two-of-three, with a 6-4, 6-0, 2-6 line on the day. Sophomore John-Henry Schulz played his best doubles of the season to win both of his sets on the day, partnering with Barnick in the second round and junior Kovid Mishra in the final round-of-play.

Coaches’ Notes

This win marks 100 since I took over as head coach of the Laguna Blanca tennis team in 2010. In looking back at the Laguna Blanca Team History page, I learned that the six seniors on this team have achieved a remarkable 52-12 record in regular-season play, and now sit at 5-2 in the playoff competition.

What’s ahead for the Owls in this year’s CIF Playoffs

Laguna will travel to Quartz Hill in Lancaster for the CIF First Round, with the match beginning at 3pm on Wednesday, May 9th. The forecast calls for a high of 95 degrees, but the Owls appear ready to take on any challenge.

A win tomorrow will likely result in a rematch with one of Laguna’s top rivals over the years in Rio Mesa High School, a match that would be played at home in Hope Ranch.