Carol Cai spent two years building a stellar tennis record with sister Jackie.
The Cate School senior is now looking to break that family tie this week and surpass their CIF finish of 2017 with new partner and classmate Grace Fuss.
“My sophomore year, Jackie’s senior year, we made it to the CIF’s round of 16,” Cai said, “but we’re trying to get further this year.”
That quest will resume at 12:30 p.m. today when they play in the Round of 32 in the CIF-Southern Section’s Individual Doubles Tournament at the Seal Beach Tennis Center.
“Over the last four years, they’ve led our team at the D1 level in tennis to a 47-3 record in the regular season,” Cate coach Trevor Thorpe pointed out during Monday’s Athletic Round Table press luncheon at Harry’s Plaza Café. “If they win tomorrow, they’ll be in the round of 16 on Wednesday … and I’m expecting that from them because they’re a great team.”
Cai and Fuss advanced through last week’s Northern Regional of the CIF Individual Doubles to earn the Athletic Round Table’s Female Athletes of the Week Award. They first had to overcome “the cursed court” of the third round.
After their second-round sweep at Carpinteria High over a team from Oxnard, their third-round match was moved to their home courts at Cate School.
They took an early lead in the first set before Camarillo’s Hannah Dever and Grace Rogers surged to a 5-3 lead.
“We lost in a tiebreaker the year before and it was on the same court, so we thought it was cursed,” Fuss said, recalling their 2018 defeat to Westlake’s Samantha Now and Essence Wang. “But this time we had a conversation … It was motivational.
“We were both kind of stressed out because it was so close, so we had to have fun. And that pushed us over the edge.”
They rallied to win the first set 7-6 and then finished off the Camarillo team 6-1 in the second one.
“The fact that we were able to pull each other up and figure out our strategy on the fly was really helpful,” said Fuss, who plans to play at Hamilton College in upstate New York next year. “I think it will be good when we play at Seal Beach.”
Their partnership has been a work in progress.
“At first it was kind of difficult because I was so used to playing with my sister and relying on that natural partnership,” Cai said. “We didn’t have to work for it in some ways, it just came naturally, and it was certainly less stressful.
“But Grace and I are friends outside of tennis so it’s not just on the court where we communicate. I know her very well and she knows me very well, and that’s made it easier on the tennis court.”
Fuss has been mostly a singles player throughout her Cate career, establishing herself as one of the area’s top players. But she’s opted to play doubles in the CIF Individuals the last two years because of the opportunity to advance farther.
“It is hard just because it’s different strategy,” she said of the switch to doubles. “Having a partner makes it much more difficult … There’s a lot more communication than I’m used to.”
But it’s been a breakthrough season for both players in many ways. Their four-year team record of 47-3 was marred by only one school: Channel League power San Marcos had beaten Cate in their first three years at the school. The Rams finally knocked off the cross-town Royals this year.
“That was a big one for us,” Thorpe said, “and something that we’ve been looking forward to for a long time.”
Fuss and Cai want to make this last run together a long one, as well.
GIRLS WATER POLO
Coach Chuckie Roth is testing his San Marcos team with matches against three of the top teams in Southern California this weekend at Dos Pueblos’ Elings Aquatics Center: Friday against CIF-SS Division 1 semifinalist Foothill and finalist Corona del Mar, and Saturday against CIF champion Laguna Beach.
He has a strong mix of veterans and young talent to be competitive, he pointed out. During Monday’s luncheon, he introduced one of the veterans, goalkeeper Riley Christen, and one of the newcomers, freshman Kate Meyer.
“Riley is going to continue playing water polo in college,” Roth said. “There are many things I really appreciate about her, but she’s rearranged all her recruiting trips around our preseason tournament schedule so she could be at everything.
“I thought that was pretty amazing that she put the team first.”
Meyer is one of several freshmen who figure to play prominent roles for San Marcos this season.
“Her sister Hannah is a senior for us and going to USC next year, and Kate really brings a lot of versatility to our team,” Roth said. “One thing we’re starting to learn about each other is that our success is really hinged upon our newcomers and the impact they’re going to make.
“Kate is at the forefront of that.”
Abigail Hendrix and Faith Tedesco were impact players when they came to Santa Barbara High as freshmen, and coach Mark Walsh is excited to see what they’ll bring now as seniors. Hendrix has signed with USC while Tedesco will play next year for UC Irvine.
“Abigail does just about everything for us,” he said. “She’s kind of the brains and the glue to our team. She does whatever is needed. She can guard set, she can set, she can play the perimeter. She can lead the attack or she could stay back on defense and organize.
“She’s traveled with the U.S. national teams for USA water polo, so she brings a lot of outside experience.”
Tedesco is versatile as well, Walsh said.
“She blocks shots from every different angle, up close and out far,” he said. “She has great reads, great legs, and can make the improbable blocks.
“Her passing has become extremely supreme … She literally can put it anywhere in the pool wherever a girl needs it.”
Santa Barbara coach Andrew Butcher has been encouraged by his team’s start against stellar competition.
“I want to say that we’re the best 1-3 team everywhere,” he said. “We’ve got a great group, great effort … The three teams we’ve lost to at the time had a combined record of 11-1. We lost to two teams that are undefeated teams by two points so we’re playing, I think, at a pretty high level.”
His three captains — Maya Banks, Mireya Gil, and Athena Saragoza — give him strong leadership.
“Maya is our 5-foot-5 center,” Butcher said. “She’s had 20-rebound games. Terrific, class person … Busts her butt.
“Mireya is a super athlete. I wish they had women’s football because she is an amazing wide receiver … She runs the wing for us and pressures on defense.
“Athena is the returning league MVP. Various schools are talking to her and myself about playing the higher level after high school. She’s a super player and she’s taking on a leadership role this year.”
Aaron Solis was coaxed out of coaching retirement at San Marcos partly because of his triumvirate of senior captains: Alyssa Hernandez, Fran Pereira, and Ashley Day.
“These three ladies are so awesome in taking care of the team,” he said. “It makes it a lot easier on me. And they’re good basketball players, too.
“We defeated Foothill Tech, who’s been tearing it up in Ventura County the past couple of years. We defeated a very tough Cate team the week before Thanksgiving. Alyssa scored a career-high against Foothill Tech, and then Fran and Ashley both had 10 boards when we played Foothill and Cate.”
Four freshmen have helped Bishop Diego get off to a 4-1 start. Senior Julia De la Cruz and junior Elliot Redkey have helped bring them into the fold, coach Jeff Burich said.
“You need to have juniors and seniors that are OK with freshmen stepping up and taking shots and giving them the confidence and giving them the freedom to play well,” he said. “These two just epitomize that.
“Julia can play every position. She plays point guard when Elliot’s not there. She was our leading scorer and our team MVP last year.
“With Elliot, I don’t have to worry about presses. We don’t even work on it in practice – it’s just, ‘Get the ball to her, clear out the space and just let her go.’ She can also shoot the ball … She’s shot 21 free throws and she’s made 16 of them.”