The Del Norte girls tennis team wrapped up a phenomenal 2017 season with its first team loss of the year on the road in the first round of the North Coast Section Division II Championships at Piedmont on Tuesday. The Highlanders showed why they were the top-seeded team in the tournament with a 7-0 sweep of the Warriors.

Although it was Del Norte’s second loss in 37 matches, the No. 16 Warriors were proud of the way they competed against four-time defending NCS champions.

“As a coach it was one of my proudest moments, to see all of our kids being competitive against skilled players,”
said Del Norte head coach Samuel Escobar. “Our effort was unmatched. We were complimented highly, not only by their coaches but also by their players. They weren’t expecting much from Humboldt-Del Norte and we proved otherwise.”

While the Warriors gave it their all against the Highlanders, Escobar said Piedmont’s players were at a different level than what Del Norte has seen before.

“The majority of their squad have been playing tennis for the most of their childhood, and many of them have been privately coached for a long time,” Escobar said. “It was hard to distinguish between the skill level of the Piedmont players because all of them had great strokes, they hit the ball consistently with a lot of power, they were incredibly fast-paced, and they had a huge arsenal of different shots.”

Although outskilled at every position, the Del Norte players made the Highlanders work for their wins.

“Piedmont High School was definitely a more skilled team, but we were competitive for a majority of the points,” Escobar said. “We gave away a small percentage of points on double faults and unforced errors, but the majority of the points were points that Piedmont had to earn.”

One of the first matches to get started in Piedmont was Danika Scott’s No. 3 singles match against Lauren Young of Piedmont.

Although Scott ultimately fell 6-4, 6-1, Escobar said Scott’s performance, especially in the first set, gave Del Norte confidence that it could compete.

“That first game was almost like a heavyweight championship match,” Escobar said. “The Piedmont girl had a powerful serve, and Danika has a powerful return. It just went back and forth. It was almost like seeing Joe Frazier and George Foreman going at each other and not letting down.”

Escobar said the No. 1 doubles team of Bailee Drown and Castly Thao was perhaps the next closest match of the day, despite falling 6-2, 6-2.

“Our kids had great placement and great strategy,” Escobar said. “They were faced with a lot of balls that were coming at them hard, fast and low to the net. But I think we had a good plan strategically. Piedmont was just more skilled than we were.”

Jasmine Pearson played No. 1 singles for Del Norte, falling 6-1, 6-2 to Kiana Karsrori, whom Escobar called, “obviously the best singles player that we have seen all year.”

Escoar said Diana Loban played consistently, but Piedmont’s Noreen Au Young was like a human backboard, returning everything Loban could throw at her in a 6-1, 6-0 loss.

Emily Feeny played No. 4 singles for Del Norte, falling 6-1, 6-0 to Emily Becker.

“I was impressed with how well she played considering that she had a hurt knee, and that she is inexperienced,” Escobar said. “We are looking forward to the potential that she has as a singles player, because she is very athletic.”

In No. 2 doubles, Del Norte Aliyah Rafalowski and Robyn Saatzer were swept 6-0, 6-0, but Escobar said he thought they played as competitively as anyone, with three games in each set going to deuce.

Hayden Thornton and Liz Ward ended up falling 6-1, 6-0 in the No. 3 doubles match. Escobar said Monique Camarena and Cynda Thao were able to play exhibition matches in Piedmont.

The loss brings one of Del Norte’s most successful seasons ever to an end with a 14-1 overall record after an undefeated and league championship regular season.

“We are not only proud of how they played in this match, but how they have done all year,” Escobar said. “They went undefeated this year. The senior girls all participated for four years and had a tremendous run with six wins their freshman year to 10 their second year to 11 last year and 14 this year. They have had an incredible run.”

After three years as the Del Norte tennis head coach, Samuel Escobar said the NCS match will be his last at the helm of the program as he looks forward to fully embracing retirement.

“I have been retired from my full-time job the last couple years, even though I have been working part time,” Escobar said. “I retired from track last year, even though I still helped out, and I am retiring from tennis now too. I need to feel retired, and this is a good way to end it.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com.

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