The first meeting of the season between the boys' tennis teams from Corona del Mar and Irvine University, the top two teams in The Times' rankings, will take place Thursday in a Pacific Coast League match at Corona del Mar High.
Had it not been for Atherton Menlo, the meeting would have occurred Saturday in the finals of the Corona del Mar High/National High School All-American tournament. The fourth-seeded Bears (11-1), from Northern California, upset top-seeded University, 5-4, in a semifinal match.
"I knew Menlo was good, but I didn't know they were that good," said Tim Mang, the tournament director and coach of second-seeded Corona del Mar (12-0), which beat the Bears, 5-4, in the final. Menlo finished third in the tournament last year and was runner-up in 2000.
University had its full lineup for one of the few times this season, but in the semifinal, Aaron Yovan and Henry Mak were beaten in pivotal singles matches and Anson Hsu dropped a hard-fought match at No. 5 singles. The Trojans (8-2-1) failed to sweep the three doubles matches necessary to advance.
"It was close all the way," said Hsu. "It was just a few points here and there."
University, ranked No. 1 last week, rebounded for a third-place finish, beating Phoenix Brophy, 8-1, which improved on its 13th-place showing last year.
Match-up problem: If each team has its full lineup, the round-robin format on Thursday favors University, which has more depth.
High school play features three rounds of single-set matches involving different players in singles and doubles. In the Corona del Mar tournament, a college format was used, which meant top players could be used in singles and doubles matches.
A college-style set-up might have made for some terrific competition Thursday.
"I'm not down to have lost to Menlo, they're a great team," University Coach John Kessler said. "But now we won't get to play Corona del Mar in [the college] format. That's the only disappointment."
In their absence: Absent from the Corona del Mar tournament was two-time defending champion Palos Verdes Peninsula.
The Panthers (5-5) were invited to the event, but Coach Tom Cox had already made plans for a trip out of town last weekend. First-year assistant coach Jeremy Schillinger was also unavailable.
"I told [the tournament director] last year I wasn't going to be available," Cox said. "Besides, at a second thought, I'm not so sure we belong there this year."
Senior Rylan Rizza, the No. 1 singles player who is headed to Virginia, returned, but Peninsula lost eight of its top 12 players from last year's team to graduation or home schooling.
Senior Paul Matysek, the No. 2 singles player, and the top doubles team of sophomore Geoff Hsu and junior Keigo Fukugaki have helped Peninsula to victories over University, Irvine Woodbridge, Palos Verdes Chadwick, Manhattan Beach Mira Costa and Santa Monica.
The Panthers' losses are to Corona del Mar, North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake, Beverly Hills, the Division III champion last year, and Brentwood, the Division V runner-up in 2001, and Dana Hills.
"We're doing OK, and we seem to be improving every match," Cox said. "Some of our guys just need to get some experience."