The Del Norte girls tennis team had a huge lead before its meet against St. Bernard’s even began on Tuesday.

The Crusaders were missing their No. 4 player, leaving them with just three players to compete in Crescent City, causing St. Bernard’s to forfeit three of the four matches against the Warriors.

On the court, Del Norte altered its regular lineup, but took care of business with three singles victories and a win in the only doubles match.

“The fact that they didn’t have a full team gave us the opportunity to move girls around. We decided not to play Bailee (Drown) at No. 1 (on Tuesday) because she had to play a tough match against the girl from Ferndale on Wednesday,” said Del Norte head coach Samuel Escobar. “That moved up our No. 2, 3 and 4 up to No. 1, 2 and 3.”

“Although the matches weren’t that close, it gave the kids an opportunity to see somebody different. It also gave us the opportunity to move our No. 3 doubles team up to No. 1, which made for a more competative match than what they usually get at the No. 3 doubles.”

Jasmine Pearson moved up into the No. 1 singles spot and picked up a 6-1, 6-4 victory over St. B’s Sunny Wu. Castly Thao dominated the No. 2 singles match with a 6-0, 6-1 win over Tenaya Farrell, and Diana Loban completed the singles sweep with a 6-0, 6-0 victory in the No. 3 spot.

Del Norte’s No. 3 doubles team of Danika Scott and Aliyah Rafalowski stepped up into the No. 1 singles match and picked up an 8-2 victory. Scott and Rafalowski are now 5-0 as a doubles team this year, though their first four wins all came in No. 3 doubles matches.

Esobar said the team’s ability to move up in the lineup and get wins showed off the strength that the team has throughout its lineup.

“Because we are deep, we can afford to (move kids around),” Escobar said. “If we didn’t have a deep team we would be messing around with stuff like that.”

On Wednesday, Del Norte regular No. 1 player, Bailee Drown, took a trip south to McKinleyville for a match against Ferndale’s only player — Bryleigh Busik.

Drown put together one of her best singles matches of the season on Wednesday with a 6-1, 6-1 victory.

“She played the best that I have seen her play, period,” said Del Norte assistant coach Jane Rumiano, who made the trip to McKinleyville with Drown. “She just played lights out tennis. She came out guns blazing and hit great baseline shots, she served well, placed the ball well, and came into the net and volleyed well. She was just determined to play the game the best that she could. She was so excited.”

With only four official matches to play against St. Bernard’s, the Warriors also took advantage of a few open courts to play two exhibition doubles matches to get more players some live matches.

“It was a chance to see how our No. 2 and No. 3 doubles teams might do if we end up winning the league championship and we decide to go down south to play in the NCS team championships,” Esobar said. “Between now and the end of the season we will continue to play exhibition doubles matches to see what might work for us.”

With team wins over St. Bernard’s and Ferndale this week, Del Norte improves to 9-0 overall this season. On Saturday, the Warriors are scheduled to host McKinleyville in a match that has been pushed back to 1 p.m. due to SAT testing Saturday morning.

With just one loss in Humboldt-Del Norte League play, the Panthers are the closest team in the standings to the Warriors, and a victory over Del Norte would pull them into a tie for first place in the league.

“It will be a close one. It would be nice to have lots of people here to cheer us on. It will be the toughest match of the year — more tough than the first time around even,” Escobar said. “While it is hearsay, we understand that they have a tough No. 3 that hasn’t been playing. If that is the case, it is going to make our match even closer than it was the first time around.”

Del Norte won 6-3 when the two teams met in McKinleyville for their first meet. The Warriors picked up wins in the No. 3–No. 6 singles matches, and won the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles matches.

A new No. 3 singles player could make the lower matches more competitive this time around, but Escobar also expects a little better showing from its top singles players and doubles team.

“We feel confident that this time around the outcome will be different in the top matches,” Escobar said. “Different could still be three losses, but we are expecting closer matches.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com.

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