After prevailing in each of the four tournaments since the CIF went to an Open Division format for boys’ tennis in 2015, it’s no surprise that Torrey Pines is a heavy favorite to make it five straight in 2019. It’s not even much of a revelation to say that the Falcons’ biggest rival for this season’s title is Avocado West League partner Canyon Crest. But the notion that the Avo West could account for three of the eight Open Division qualifiers might raise a few eyebrows.
The newcomer to be is La Costa Canyon under first-year Head Coach Isa Grimes, who came over from Carlsbad. The Mavericks own some history in the sport, sandwiching a Division I banner between a pair of second place finishes in 2003, but recent results have definitely been a notch below that highpoint.
The coming week will provide a good indicator of just where these teams stack up in relation to each other. In dual competition, Coach Chris Black’s CCA squad will host Torrey Pines Tuesday and Coach Skip Strode’s Falcons will make a second road trip Thursday to LCC. Both should be first class match-ups but don’t count on Strode’s charges dropping either.
Although Canyon Crest has much of the roster back that took Torrey to a 9-9 tiebreaker in last year’s CIF semi-finals, this year’s edition of the Falcons, despite losing CIF individual champ Nik Speshilov to graduation, may be even a little stronger.
“Torrey Pines has some incredible top-of-the-ladder talent and may have the edge on paper,” said Black.
“I wish we could have cashed in that opportunity last year because they may have created a little more separation.
“That being said, with the 18-pt. high school scoring system where it’s one set per match, anything can happen and I know I can count on a great effort from our players.” Last spring, the Ravens used depth and outstanding doubles prowess to push Torrey Pines to the edge and they’ll likely be employing the same formula this time around (in a recent win over Carlsbad, they used 24 different players while shutting out the Lancers). Paced by the senior-freshman duo of Luke Williams and Bryce Nakashima at No. 1, CCA’s top three doubles combos have yet to lose.
“Luke and Bryce have been playing spectacularly and are really fun to watch,” said Black. “They’ve yet to be really tested and I think they have a legitimate shot at winning the CIF doubles title.” Senior Derek Sung is again proving solid in the No. 1 singles role, backed by a rotating group of freshmen at No. 2 with senior Daniel Patel holding down the third slot. Black’s 2019 squad, 8-1, opened its schedule the first weekend in March with a surprising second place finish at the prestigious 16-team Bay Area Classic where they defeated No. 1-seeded host Menlo before losing 4-3 to Manhattan Beach Mira Costa in the final.
But, don’t expect Strode to spend too much time worrying about anyone outside of his own squad. They’re playing at a high level and the second-year head man agrees with Black’s analysis of his unit. Sporting a 6-0 record without surrendering a point when their top group is on the court, the Falcons will be a handful for any San Diego area team.
“We are a better team than last year,” says Strode emphatically. “Although losing Nik may have hurt us because he nearly always won his matches without surrendering any points (providing security in tiebreaker scenarios), I’m not sure CCA has anyone who can beat our top three.” That senior trio—Matthew Sah, Eshan Talluri and Michael Hao—has also allowed Strode to move junior Eric Silberman over to doubles, potentially cutting into Canyon Crest’s strength. The sophomore doubles duo of Alex Stafford and Max Pogorelov, together for a second season, also figure to help the Falcons in that area.
Interestingly, over at LCC, Grimes may have a player in senior Mitchell Davis who has the capability to get some singles points vs. Torrey Pines. The Mavericks, who pushed CCA in an 11-7 defeat last week, don’t figure to have near the depth to challenge Torrey at the team level but in the the short term, Grimes is interested in seeing how Davis will perform on the biggest regular season stage this week.
“Talent-wise, Mitchell is better than 95 percent of the players he faces here, but we’re trying to prepare him for the next level where you can’t just rely on pure talent and a few points can determine a match,” said Grimes, who played No. 1 at Michigan State as a collegian. The 6-foot-3 Davis is a big server, averaging in the low 120’s on his first offering and has a powerful forehand. Grimes has him working on his second serve and using his service game to position himself to further utilize his 6-3 wingspan at the net.
From an overall perspective, Grimes is looking at this season as the first building block in moving LCC back to the elite level of local prep tennis. “We’ve been demolishing other teams but against CCA and Torrey Pines, we’ve got some things to figure out if we want to compete with them,” he said matter-of-factly. “Realistically, we’re probably the third team in the Avocado West but we have an opportunity to get into the CIF Open Division bracket and if we do that, I’d like to see us reach the semi-finals.
“That would be a 200-fold improvement over what we did last year (losing in the D-I semis). You couldn’t ask for much more. If I can stay here for awhile, I want to be competing every year with Torrey and CCA.” Count Strode among those who would be in favor of that development.
“I would absolutely like to see all of our league teams get better,” said Strode. “We don’t get much practice in some of our matches. More good teams make everyone better. Honestly, the most critical element for our success right now is staying healthy—if we don’t get anyone injured, we’re not losing. We’re too deep.”
Upcoming Avocado West boys tennis
Monday, March 25 – Canyon Crest @ Mission Hills (3 p.m.)
Monday, March 25 – Carlsbad @ La Costa Canyon (3:30 p.m.)
Tuesday, March 26 – Torrey Pines @ Canyon Crest (3:15 p.m.)
Thursday, March 28 – Canyon Crest @ San Marcos (3 p.m.)
Thursday, March 28 – Torrey Pines @ La Costa Canyon (3:15 p.m.)