Owls’ Run Comes to an end in CIF Semifinals

Laguna Blanca boys’ tennis finally met their match today, dropping a 7-11 decision at West Covina High School. The match decided which team would advance to the CIF Division Finals to play Geffen Academy, a 10-8 winner over Westminster High School.

How it Happened

The day was characterized by blustery conditions, with wind gusts reaching 30 miles-per-hour, but the tennis went on with intensity.

In the first round, Laguna banked dominant performances from Kai Suzuki and Cody Busch-Weiss at #1 doubles and Ben Rodgers and Davis Ohanian at the #2 spot. Junior Aden Meisel added a nice 6-2 set-win at the #3 singles position.

On the other side, West Covina relied upon strength at the #1 and #2 singles positions, including Adam Lee who as recently as a few months ago was ranked #210 in the country in his class. West Covina leveled the match at 3-3 with a 6-2 win at #3 doubles, the first time this playoffs that Laguna had lost a set against a #3 team.

Round two went sharply against the visiting Owls, with West Covina rapidly sweeping the singles and giving Rodgers and Ohanian their first loss of the playoffs. Suzuki and Busch-Weiss took care of business at the top spot, while Mason Berg and Jake Gidney lost a tight 4-6 set against the top team from West Covina.

With the match now slipping away (4-8) after two rounds, Laguna battled on. Senior Owen Pryor registered a 6-0 win to end his playing career, while senior team captions Ben Rodgers and Kai Suzuki each winning in similar fashion with their doubles partners. The Owls were stopped at 7 wins though, as West Covina picked up the other three sets and book their berth in the title match on Friday.

Coach’s Comments

West Covina is the first team we’ve played in the playoffs that didn’t really have any weak points in their lineup. We have been winning 7-8 sets in doubles, thanks to our depth, but we only got 5 today. They also had a very strong singles lineup, so there were very few easy points to put on the scoreboard.

I would have loved to see this very deserving group of guys get a chance to play in that title match on Friday, but I can’t be disappointed by the way they competed. We had a great post-season, and both in the 4 wins and this loss, we can be proud of our performance and the way we carried ourselves.

Owls Advance to Semifinals with 13-5 Win

Laguna Blanca boys’ tennis will play in the CIF Semifinals for the first time in history after a 13-5 win against visiting Summit High School.

The win puts the Owls amongst the top four teams in CIF D5, alongside West Covina, Westminster, and Geffen Academy.

Summit entered the match as the #9-seed, with an impressive 21-2 record, while Laguna Blanca’s win-loss stood at 13-2.

How it Happened

In the first round, Summit struck first with a 6-1 victory at #1 singles, but Laguna fired back quickly with wins from Kai Suzuki/Cody Busch-Weiss and Ben Rodgers/Davis Ohanian at #1 and #2 doubles. These pairings remain undefeated across the 4 playoff matches, a devastating 1-2-punch that has been pivotal in Laguna’s advance to the semifinals.

Summit struck next with a 6-2 win at #2 singles over junior Kent Dunn, but his good friend and classmate Aden Meisel had the rebuttal ready as he took a comfortable 6-1 win at the #3 position. That left just the #3 doubles set on-court to decide the result of the first round-of-play.

Sophomores Mason Berg and Jake Gidney were locked in a tight battle with their Summit counterparts, going down early, but rallying to take a 5-4 lead with Berg serving.

As the sophomores looked to close out the set, the Summit team got tight with the calls, erasing an ace that would become a double fault at 30-15. There were even calls from the Summit sideline to change the call, but the call stood and Laguna was forced to ask for a line-judge for the first time in the entire season.

Upon restarting the match at 30-all, Berg and Gidney were lazer-focused and quickly took the set with a poach-winner and an unreturnable serve. The 6-4 set gave Laguna a 4-2 lead after the first round-of-play and set the table for what was to become a dominant all-around performance throughout the rest of the match.

On the back of a stellar 6-0 performance from Aden Meisel against the Summit #2, the Owls took the second round 5-1. Senior Owen Pryor added a 6-1 victory and the doubles lineup remained unblemished on the day.

With a 9-3 score and the match all but locked up, Laguna Blanca continued to play hard, taking advantage of every opportunity to hone skills and strategy that will help in the remainder of this season’s playoffs. Owen Pryor took a second win on the day and Kent Dunn chipped in with a 6-1 win over the Summit #3. In doubles, Suzuki/Busch-Weiss and Rodgers/Ohanian cruised, while Berg/Gidney nearly upset the Summit #1 team, conceding 4-6 in the end.

Coach’s Comments

In our pre-match warmup, we always end with a drill called the volley-weave. Today, we made 22-consecutive shots in that drill, with the opposing team looking on. We could hear the other team making nervous comments when we finished and I could sense we’d be bringing our top-level to this match.

This team has arrived. The guys clearly now believe they can go all the way in this CIF Playoffs. It’s something I knew they were capable of as we gathered in mid-February for the pre-season meeting. These guys have worked very hard to get from there to here, and I’m so proud of the poise they have been showing throughout the playoffs.

Also, I want to give a shout-out to parent-support throughout the season, but particularly today. The mango-game was incredibly strong today, which fortified us with the extra energy needed to close out our 4th match-win in 5 school days.

What’s Next for Owls Tennis?

Laguna Blanca will play at West Covina High School at 3pm on Wednesday, May 11th for a shot at the title match in Claremont on Friday.

Owls Fly into CIF Quarterfinals

Laguna Blanca took an 11-7 victory at Schurr High School in Montebello on Friday afternoon. The win means a return to the CIF Quarterfinals for the third consecutive full season (2020 and 2021 were incomplete due to COVID).

The Owls relied on eight set-wins in doubles, where both Kai Suzuki/Cody Busch-Weiss and Ben Rodgers/Davis Ohanian remain undefeated in post-season play.

Senior George Nicks got the call to the starting lineup for the second time this playoffs, pairing with sophomore Mason Berg for two wins on the day.

In singles, Laguna faced a strong Schurr lineup, but managed to sweep the number three singles player. Owen Pryor, Kent Dunn, and Aden Meisel all played fiercely, getting stronger throughout the match.

Coach’s Comments

This match was a total dog-fight in the best possible sense. The singles matches were full of long, high-intensity points. Owen had one point in the first game that went on for several minutes. In a pure battle of wills, he wasn’t about to be the first to flinch, and eventually forced the error from his opponent.

In doubles, we keep getting more dialed as partnerships continue to grow and I loved our aggressiveness at the net in this match.

What’s next for the Owls?

Laguna Blanca will play again on Monday, 3pm at home against the winner of La Salle and Summit high schools.

Laguna Cruises to 15-3 Win in CIF First Round

The Owls took a comfortable victory over visiting Chaffey High School today, dropping just three sets. The win followed a 14-4 result in the Wild Card round against El Monte, bringing the season record to 12-2.

How it Happened

Laguna’s doubles lineup was led by senior Kai Suzuki and junior Cody Busch-Weiss, who took a 7-5 tie-break win over the Chaffey #1’s in the first round before cruising to a pair of 6-1 victories in the remaining rounds.

Senior/freshman combo Ben Rodgers and Davis Ohanian continued their strong play, beating the top two teams from Chaffey 6-2, 6-0, before senior George Nicks took over for Ohanian in the third round for a 6-1 win. Sophomores Mason Berg and Jake Gidney went 2-1 on the day.

Owen Pryor, a senior standout for the Owls, finished 2-0 on the day from the top slot in the lineup, while junior Kent Dunn was 2-1, including a win over the Chaffey #1. Junior Aden Meisel slotted back into the singles lineup for the first time in a few weeks and collected a 6-0, 6-1, 6-0 sweep on the day.

Coach’s Comments

After our trip out to East LA yesterday, we got to play at home today, which was a welcome relief. Chaffey had to make a similar drive and that’s never easy, but it was another fun match all-around. We’re obviously thrilled to be coming out with a win, but I’m also pleased with the quality of our play and the good-natured competition we’ve experienced so far this playoffs. It’s fun to play teams we wouldn’t normally come into contact with and to see how we compare to schools from other parts of Southern California.

In singles, I was particularly pleased to see Aden playing so well after his recent foray into the doubles lineup. Moving Kai into the doubles lineup allows us to take advantage of his skills at the net, and it’s good to see that Aden is ready to step up for us if needed in the singles lineup again.

In doubles, I thought Ben and Davis looked ferocious today. They served well and smothered the net, poaching aggressively and really taking the match by the reins. They’re a doubles pairing that are capable of beating anything our next few opponents send our way.

What’s Next for the Owls?

Laguna will play away on Friday against the winner of the match between Whittier and Schurr high schools, which means another long day of travel, but hopefully one that will be rewarded with a berth in the CIF Quarterfinals.

Owls Open CIF Playoffs as #1 Seed, Take 14-4 Win

The Laguna Blanca boys’ tennis team took a 14-4 road win over El Monte High School on Tuesday afternoon to begin the CIF Division Playoffs.

The Owls took 8-of-9 sets in doubles, including sweeps from Ben Rodgers/Davis Ohanian and Aden Meisel/Cody Busch-Weiss. George Nicks and Mason Berg added 2 sets, with their lone loss a tight 4-6 set against the El Monte #1’s.

In singles, senior Owen Pryor swept his sets for the owls, winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-1. Junior Kent Dunn added 2 wins, while senior captain Kai Suzuki was 1-1 on the day before being substituted out.

After moving up to the #2-ranked team in CIF Division 5 in the final two weeks of the season, Laguna now find themselves at the top of the draw in the #1 position after #1 Roosevelt High School failed to qualify for the playoffs.

Coach’s Comments:

It was a long drive out to East LA, but the guys came ready to play today. We thoroughly enjoyed this first match in what we’re hoping will be a long playoff run. Our opponents were solid players and a lot of fun to play, so I think it’s a great match to have under our belts.

What’s Next for the Owls?

Laguna will play again at home on Wednesday, May 4th at 3pm. The visiting team is Chaffey High School from the Ontario area, who defeated Rim of the World High School 76-70 on games after tying 9-9 in sets.

Cate Girls Fall 6-12 to Windward in D3 Playoffs

Cate Girls’ Tennis was dealt a tough draw in this year’s CIF Division 3 Playoffs, but battled gamely throughout the day.

Windward was seeded #8 in the division, but finished third in their league behind Campbell Hall (#2 seed in CIF D2) and Brentwood (D1 playoff team). They also took a win earlier this season against The Geffen School (#2 seed in D4).

In the end, Cate was unable to overcome the challenge from visiting Windward, dropping a 6-12 contest that also marks the end of the season for the Rams.

How it happened

Round 1 perhaps showed the difference in experience between a Windward team that had consistently faced elite-level opponents and a Cate team that played only two close matches on the season. Cate fell behind on every court in the opening minutes of the match and by the time the home team started to find their footing, they faced a significant deficit to battle back. Sophomore Frances Davis brought in the lone win of the first round in the sixth set, with her 6-3 victory at #3 singles.

As the match went on, Cate continued to close the gap in performance, with senior Aminah Hill taking a 6-2 victory in the second round in singles and all three doubles matches going to 3-3 simultaneously at one point in the round. In the end, Cate was only able to add one more set in Round 2, with senior Emily May and junior Ella Chang recording a 6-3 win over the Windward #2 team.

Round three was the most balanced on the day, with Cate and Windward trading set wins back and forth. Senior Julianna Forry and junior Ellie Tunnell led with a 6-2 win over the #1 doubles team, while sophomore Alyna Takahashi rattled off five consecutive points from 0-40 down in the deciding game of her 6-4 set win against the Windward #3. After Hill dropped a tight 5-7 tie-breaker to the #2, senior Ashi Kamra and freshman Colette Chang were the final match of the season for Cate tennis.

Kamra and Chang, who recently earned Tri-Valley League First-Team Doubles honors in the league tournament, fell behind 1-4 in the set. However, the pair, rallied, refusing to surrender the final match of the season, which would also be Kamra’s last for the Rams. The duo responded with three quick games to level the set at 4-4, before a more even back-and-forth ensued. In the end, Kamra and Chang would not be denied, taking a 7-5 set-win against the Windward #2 team and ending the season on a happy note.

Coach Thorpe’s Comments:

We lost. It’s a bummer. It would have been nice to meet such a strong opponent as Windward a bit later in the draw, but you’d be totally mistaken to think we didn’t enjoy every minute of the match today.

What I witnessed was Cate Girls’ Tennis battling it out to the bitter end together. Our team did a phenomenal job of supporting each other, giving everything and using all we’d been learning across the season to the maximum of what we had to offer on the day. That’s what this is about.

Every starter put a win on the scoreboard today, but more importantly, every member of this team got to be part of something very special: a real TEAM. It was a total honor to be the coach that got to witness it all season long.

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.

Cate Battles Mightily in 6-12 Playoff Loss

IMG_4428Cate’s first foray into the girls’ tennis division one playoffs ended with a 6-12 loss today at home against Mira Costa.

In the first round, Cate got big wins from Sarah Polowczak and Fritze Mayer at #3 doubles and Jackie and Carol Cai at #1 doubles in a brilliantly played tie-breaker.

Jackie Cai held serve at 5-6 down with two consecutive aces to open the game and then her younger sister Carol poached the return on the next point. The older Cai then fired another unreturnable serve to force the tie-breaker. The Cai sisters, recently crowned two-time TVL League Doubles Champions took an early lead in the breaker and held it to a 7-4 conclusion in what was the most excited set on the day.

Grace Fuss and Sydney Burton both pushed their opponents to the 4-6 sets in singles action, despite being outmatched on paper.

After dropping the first round 2-4, Cate looked to be on the rebound with a quick 6-0 win from Grace Fuss and Sydney Burton taking a 5-0 lead on the Mira Costa #2. Meanwhile, Jackie and Carol Cai delivered a 6-0 victory against the #3 doubles team.

The match took another momentum swing, though, as Cate’s #2 team of Janice Ng and Jennifer Soh dropped a 1-6 set against the Mira Costa #1’s and Polowczak/Mayer could not hold an early lead against the #2’s, falling 3-6. A heady change of strategy yielded a seven-game swing for Mira Costa at the #2 singles position, where Burton had previously looked to have the set locked up.

Down 4-8 after two rounds, Cate remained resolute to fight to the last set, with the Cai sisters completing their sweep on the day with a 6-4 set. Meanwhile, Polowczak and Mayer played their best tennis of the day to record a 4-6 loss against Mira Costa’s formidable #1’s and Ng/Soh held a 5-4 lead against the #3’s before losing the final three games.

Kate Tunnell couldn’t get past the Mira Costa #3, though she played her best tennis of the season throughout the day. Grace Fuss added the final win of the day just moments after substitute Yuki Kobayashi dropped her set against the #1 from Mira Costa, making the final score 6-12.

In total, five-of-seven sets decided by two games or less went the way of Mira Costa, meaning that Cate was very much in the battle and might have come out the victor had just a few games in those key sets gone the other way.

This was the first season for Cate in CIF’s top division, which is composed of the best 30 teams in Southern California. Today, Cate faced a school with 10 times its enrollment and made a very strong stand.

Three seasons prior, Cate girls’ tennis was promoted from D4 to D2 and lost in the first round before going on to reach the quarterfinals in the next two seasons. Perhaps this is just the start?

If I can say anything about my team, it’s that they have always risen to meet the next challenge. We faced a very strong team with an exponentially larger student body and from a powerhouse league. Still, from the first point to the last, we belonged. My girls have heart and they love to compete with class. As a coach and mentor, I couldn’t be more proud.

Cate will be represented in CIF Individuals by Grace Fuss in singles and in doubles by Janice Ng/Sarah Polowczak as well as Carol Cai/Jackie Cai. The Cai sisters look primed to break out of the regional event, where last year they won two rounds before dropping the final round-of-play. No Cate girls’ tennis player/team has broken through to the CIF Individuals Final Rounds in the last ten plus years.IMG_4436