Annie Radeva has decided to leave the Newport Harbor High girls' tennis program to focus more on tournaments. (KEVIN CHANG, Daily Pilot / June 17, 2012)

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Annie Radeva and Natalie Cernius, two singles starters on the Newport Harbor High girls' tennis team last season, are not planning to return in the fall for the Sailors.

Radeva is an incoming sophomore and Cernius is an incoming junior. They were two of the three singles starters for last year's Sunset League champions and CIF Southern Section Division 2 finalists.

Radeva confirmed the news Saturday after her first match at the 110th annual Southern California Junior Sectionals, and Cernius' mother, Poita, said in an email that her daughter will not be playing for Newport Harbor this fall.

"They're both great girls, and they both have different opportunities that they need to seek out right now," Newport Harbor Coach Kristen Case said. "I 100% support them in that. And I'm excited for next year's team, to rebuild and grow and come together to have another great experience.

"I have nothing but the best of words to say about both Annie and Natalie. I think they're both incredible young women."

Radeva said Saturday that she wants to focus on more individual tournaments, so she could no longer attend the Sailors' practices.

"I love the program," said Radeva, who did not rule out returning in future years. "At the end of the day, I just need to compete individually in these bigger tournaments ... I don't think [just showing up to matches] is fair to the girls. I wouldn't be that good of a teammate if I just showed up. We do a lot of team bonding, and I'd be missing all that, so I don't think that's fair to the girls."

Poita Cernius wrote in an email that her daughter has been offered an opportunity to take the Friday Night Club for Special Needs Teens, an Orange County group she founded, to a national level. Natalie, a pianist, also will be able to devote more time to her music.

"I'm not upset, mostly just sad," Poita Cernius wrote in the email. "Natalie had two idyllic years as a freshman and sophomore — the team went to the CIF championship both years, and she was the Sunset League singles finalist both years. With only two years left in high school, she felt she needed to turn her focus to the other things she loves besides tennis."

Seven starters have left the varsity team since Case became the coach in 2007, albeit for several different reasons. It began with Natalie Cernius' older sister, Ariana, as well as Cynthia Waterman.

In 2010, the Sailors lost incoming senior Rebecca Arnold and incoming sophomore Samantha Stalder, their top two singles players from the previous year. Stalder was at No. 1 singles for Newport Harbor in 2009-10, and Arnold played No. 2 singles. Last summer, Newport Harbor also lost one of its top doubles players, incoming senior Ricki Archie, as she left the team to focus on employment opportunities. The previous year, Archie played at No. 1 doubles with Christina Young.

The parents of both Arnold and Stalder cited rigorous training requirements as a primary reason why their daughters left the Sailors. Arnold's mother, Nancy, wrote in an email Friday that the time commitment is just too much for serious players.

"I know that Kristen has a philosophy that building teamwork creates a team of individuals that perform better than they truly are, and that to create that environment one must be entirely dedicated to the team," Nancy Arnold wrote. "However, it is difficult for most parents to go along with her level of enthusiasm and commitment because there is a difference between tennis (which is an individual sport) and other sports."

In tennis, unlike most other team sports, players are almost always recruited for college based on their individual success at United States Tennis Assn. tournaments.

"No one is recruited from the NHHS tennis team based on their performance at NHHS to play in college," Arnold wrote. "What is looked at by colleges is not how they played on the high school team, but rather their individual ranking. The truth of the matter is that any girl who wants to play at the college level cannot afford to spend her time with the NHHS team.

"... It is an unfortunate situation, but the only solution that makes sense for many individuals that are competing to get into college is to quit the varsity tennis team. [Athletic Director Mike Zimmerman] has stated to me that it is a privilege to be on a varsity team at NHHS, not a right. The price for the privilege to be on the NHHS girls' varsity team is too high."

Christina Young, who played in the program for four years, has a different view. Young, part of the No. 1 doubles team each of the last two years, is far from a dedicated tournament player. But she plans to walk on the women's tennis team at UC Santa Barbara.

"Personally, for me, being on the tennis team was the best experience I've ever had in sports and had at Newport Harbor," Young said. "It was the highlight of my high school experience. Personally, I would never think of quitting the team because it had such a quality impact on me. Kristen doesn't just teach us how to be good tennis players. She teaches us how to be good people, and good students ... High school tennis isn't necessarily for everyone, but for me it was the best thing that I've ever done."

Young said she has had no problem with the way the program has been run, even if it has meant some of her classmates — and friends — have left the team.

"I think it's fair the way the Kristen has set it up," Young said. "You have to show your team that you're giving 100% ... it depends on the person. If I didn't have the high school team and Kristen, I wouldn't be where I'm at or going to play in college. My family can't afford for me to have private lessons three or four times a week. Having that team there to hit with me whenever I need to, or to train or go condition with me, that has been huge. I know I would not have gotten any of that if I was just a singles tournament player."