SEAL BEACH — This is her first year in high school tennis, but the postseason tournament draw is similar to ones Corona del Mar High senior Lynda Xepoleas has seen before.
The bracket still goes from left to right, and you still want to make sure your name keeps advancing further right. Sixty-four of the top players in Southern California were in the draw as the CIF Southern Section girls' tennis Individuals began. After five rounds, just four singles players remain.
"It seems pretty much just like a little tournament," Xepoleas said. "It's a little different because you're representing your school, not just yourself. You just keep that in mind."
Xepoleas made sure she represented the Sea Kings well. She played her way into the final four Thursday at Seal Beach Tennis Center, easily winning both of her matches. She beat West Covina sophomore Alexis Valenzuela in her round of 16 match, 6-0, 6-0, then got by Warren senior Nicole Kosakowski, 6-2, 6-1 in a quarterfinal match.
No. 2-seeded Xepoleas will face Campbell Hall of North Hollywood senior Sabrina Santamaria in a semifinal at 11 a.m. today. In the other semifinal, top-seeded Woodbridge freshman Mayo Hibi will face Mira Costa sophomore Maegan Manasse. The championship match will follow.
The Sage Hill School junior doubles team of Katie Bick and Rian Billingsley fell in their round of 16 match to University's Elika Fateri and Danielle Pham, 6-2, 6-3.
Xepoleas, bound for Purdue, had little resistance in her two matches. After breezing through her round of 16 match she encountered another big hitter in Kosakowski, who started slow but engaged in some good rallies later in the match.
Xepoleas stayed solid, putting her opponent away. She's known for her blistering forehand but she showed off her overall game.
"I think I played pretty good today," she said. "My backhand was on today, which really helped me, and so did my serve."
Santamaria, bound for USC, is a tough semifinal opponent. She and Lee led back-to-back Division I champion Campbell Hall all year. When CdM played at Campbell Hall in a Division I semifinal, Santamaria defeated Xepoleas, 6-3.
Xepoleas said she hadn't played Santamaria recently in any junior tournaments. But Santamaria also won the last time they played in one, a Southern California Junior Sectionals quarterfinal match in June, 2009.
Corona del Mar Coach Brian Ricker said he also expects a good match in the semifinal.
"Santamaria's tough," he said. "She's mentally tough. She has a really good forehand, similar to Lynda's, and she slices her backhand almost all the time. It's a very effective shot, and it forces girls into the court, then she rips her forehand."
Ricker said he'd give Xepoleas a good shot, though, if she can again bring her all-around game.
"It's two great players," he said. "One's going to USC, one's going to Purdue. It's who shows up and plays outstanding tennis. Lynda's going to have to make some big shots, which she does, and Santamaria's going to have to defend like crazy.
"Today was the best I've seen [Xepoleas'] backhand look. She was hitting through it, hitting some winners and not making errors. If she can continue that tomorrow, I like her chances."
Bick and Billingsley were the first Sage Hill doubles team in program history to make it to the round of 16. Despite their 6-2, 6-3 loss, the Academy League champions were in each set. The first set was knotted at 2-2, and the second set was as close as 4-3 before the Uni team pulled away.
Fateri twisted her ankle in the first set and took an injury timeout. She was in obvious pain for a game or two but gutted it out.
"They just hit really well," Bick said. "It was their good shots that made us not play well. They were good."
Billingsley said she and her teammate could look back and see how much they accomplished, in a year they also helped Sage Hill make the Division III title match and finish as runner-up.
"We're really proud," Billingsley said. "We have next year to go farther."