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

Laguna’s Playoff Run Ends in Quarterfinal Round

FullSizeRender 5Our playoff streak ended at three wins last night, with a defeat coming at the hands of Downey High School in Los Angeles. The CIF Quarterfinal appearance was my sixth in 16 seasons of coaching high school teams in Santa Barbara, but the first for my boys’ team. In fact, it’s the deepest playoff run for Laguna tennis that can be recalled by athletic program staff going back at least twenty years. Here are the final two match recaps:

Laguna Blanca v. Cabrillo/Lompoc (14-4)

On Friday, the Owls validated their position as the #5-seed in CIF Division 4 with a resounding 14-4 win over Cabrillo/Lompoc. The Round-of-16 match was held at Laguna Blanca on a beautiful Santa Barbara day.

Cabrillo entered the match with a 16-2 record and the beginning of the match was close, with Laguna leading 3-2 and one tight doubles match still in play. Freshmen Rhami Zeini and John-Henry Schulz took a 6-4 victory at the #2 doubles position to put Laguna ahead 4-2 after the first round of play. From that point on, it was nearly all Laguna in the win column for the rest of the match.

Junior Alex Furukawa remains undefeated in playoff play, recording 6-1, 6-1, and 6-4 victories on the day and juniors Conor Scheinberg and Jason Barnick continued their unbeaten streak in the playoffs at #1 doubles. In fact, Laguna Blanca doubles swept Cabrillo in 9 sets-of-play, with Zeini and Schulz taking care of business at #2 doubles and Kelvin Chen and Kevin Khodabandehlou also winning all three sets.

Kai Nakamura and Victor Liu both defeated the Cabrillo #1 player Cedric Kwon, but fell two the #2-#3 players who were both playing in the their last high school match.

Laguna Blanca @ Downey (7-11)

Playing against a school with 4,200 students to make a team from was always going to be a challenge for the small private school, but Laguna Blanca held its own in many of the matchups.

Kai Nakamura won 2-of-3 sets and Alex Furukawa and Victor Liu each added wins against the Downey #3 position.

In doubles, Conor Scheinberg and Jason Barnick got off to an excellent start, defeating the Downey #1 doubles team in the first round (6-2) and eventually finishing 2-and-1 on the day. Kelvin Chen and Kevin Khodabandehlou added an impressive 6-4 victory over the #2’s in the final round of play (6-4); Chen and Khodabandehlou were 4-0 as a doubles pairing in the playoffs.

The Bottom Line

While this is the end of the season for Laguna, it’s only “part 1” for this team. The 12 players who traveled to the Downey match will all be back next season, looking to improve upon this quarterfinal appearance.

I’m very proud of the way my guys battled today, even as we recognized we where playing the last round of our season. We took the final round 4-2 against a Downey team that really didn’t have any weak points. We’re already looking ahead to next season and I know a lot of the guys are planning to work hard to in the off-season to be ready.

Laguna Wins First Two Playoff Matches!

Laguna Blanca Boys’ Tennis has made a triumphant return to the CIF Division 4 Playoffs after a one-year absence. After finishing the regular season 13-3 and earning a freelance wildcard spot in the playoffs, Laguna has now won two playoff games and enters a third tomorrow against Cabrillo/Lompoc.

Laguna Blanca v. Paso Robles (15-3)

Paso Robles came to Furukawa Tennis Garden boasting a 14-6 record and seemed like a tough draw for a wildcard round match for the #5-seeded Owls. What transpired, though, was one of Laguna’s most dominant performances of the season.

Alex Furukawa, Kai Nakamura, and Victor Liu all swept their singles opponents, giving Laguna a significant edge, and the top doubles pairing of juniors Conor Scheinberg/Jason Barnick also swept while playing down at the #3 position. Kovid Mishra and Kelvin Chen added two sets, including a 6-2 victory over the Paso #1 team.

Laguna Blanca @ Carpinteria (11-7)

This was a very familiar match-up, as these teams play each other twice each season, but anything can happen in the playoffs and Carpinteria is known for making strategic lineup adjustments. Though Laguna had beaten the Warriors (10-8, 12-6), the win was not a given.

After the first round-of-play, the two teams were knotted in a 3-3 tie, with Laguna winning 2-of-3 in singles, while Carpinteria snagged 2-of-3 in doubles. In fact, the match remained tightly contested until Laguna freshman Kai Nakamura defeated junior Jeremy Saito to end the second round-of-play, giving Laguna a 7-5 lead. Nakamura and Saito had played an hour-long set in their last meeting, with Saito prevailing 10-8 in the tie-breaker, but this time Nakamura was more aggressive and confidently ended the set at 6-4.

In the third round, Alex Furukawa recorded a 6-4 win against Saito and Scheinberg/Barnick continued their streak of wins as the Owls’ top doubles team. Nakamura and Liu added wins at #2 and #3 singles to bring the score to 11-7.

Looking Ahead

The Owls play next on Friday, May 12th in the second round of CIF Playoffs against Cabrillo/Lompoc. Cabrillo finished the regular season 15-2 and beat Oakwood of Hollywood in the first round. The match will be held at Laguna Blanca at 3pm. Please come out and support the Owls as they look to reach the CIF Quarterfinals for the first time in team history!