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SEASON PREVIEW: BOYS' TENNIS

Mang Protects His Dynasty

A defection to the pros by a player such as Ball is the biggest worry for the coach at vaunted Corona del Mar.

March 16, 2004|ELIA POWERS | Times Staff Writer

Tim Mang exudes quiet confidence as he struts across a long string of tennis courts at Corona del Mar High. The straw-golf-hat-and-sandals outfit, most fitting for the elder statesman of this storied program, is a sign of his tranquillity during an early-season practice.

There's not much for Mang to worry about these days, with the top-ranked Sea Kings off to a 5-0 start one season after they finished 24-0 and defeated Santa Barbara, 14-4, for their 10th Southern Section team championship. Monday, they beat another powerhouse, Rolling Hills Estate Peninsula, 13-5, in a nonleague match

This season, Corona del Mar has two of the favorites -- juniors Carsten Ball and Wesley Miller -- to represent the Pacific League in postseason singles play.

Team victories over Brentwood, ranked No. 10 by The Times, and No. 6 Santa Ana Mater Dei show that the road to the Division I title likely runs through Corona del Mar.

Still, one subject leaves Mang concerned, even as the Sea Kings look poised to repeat as section champions.

"My concern is that players get too good," said Mang, who has coached at Corona del Mar for 11 seasons. "I'm worried about them leaving."

Not by transferring to another school or by changing sports -- after all, why would anyone abandon a program that has won 25 league and three Southern Section team championships in the last five seasons (1999, 2001, 2003).

Mang's concern is that his top players simply outgrow high school play. That is the most pressing problem for a coach who has helped develop three section singles champions and seven doubles champions during a 248-34 run at Corona del Mar.

The program's most notable defection came in 1996, when Taylor Dent, currently ranked No. 45 in the ATP, left to begin home-schooling after winning the 1996 section singles title as a freshman.

Eight years later, Mang's attention turns to Ball, a 16-year-old junior who is one of the top players in the Southern Section and the heir apparent to last season's No. 1 singles player, Garrett Snyder, currently playing for Texas.

"Things just come easy to Carsten," Mang said. "He's one of the quickest players on the court I've ever seen, and he has great hands."

Ball, who takes part in an independent study program at nearby Monte Vista school while he trains and travels during the school year, said he doesn't plan to follow Dent and leave the program before his four years are up.

That's because Ball still has much to prove in high school. In 2002, Ball and Snyder won the Southern Section doubles title. But last season, Ball finished third in singles in a strong Pacific Coast League and didn't qualify for the postseason. Ball, a 6-foot-1 left-hander, had played sparingly this season because of a stomach virus, but he made his singles debut against Peninsula and swept his sets. He had been 6-0 in doubles.

"I've played around here all my life," Ball said. "I came here knowing what we could do."

From 1998 to 2002, his brother, 20-year-old Cameron, played under Mang. Cameron stayed all four years, setting a precedent for Carsten.

Corona del Mar's rich tennis history is one of the reasons Ball is content in his current role at No. 1 singles. Mang uses the program's success to sell top players on staying all four years.

"I tell my top guys, stay in the program because you will have guys to practice with who are on your level," Mang said. "We have depth, so players aren't going to get bored."

The junior Miller, who has moved from No. 1 doubles to No. 2 singles this season, is Ball's best competition.

While Mang said the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles teams need to improve if the team expects to repeat, the Sea Kings still run into difficulties finding quality competition. "We want to play tough teams," he said. "It changes every year, but we have a hard time finding teams that will play us."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

THE TIMES' RANKINGS

ELIA POWERS' BOYS' TENNIS RANKINGS AND COMMENTS:

Rk. School, Rec., Div. Comment

1 CORONA DEL MAR

(5-0, SS-Div. I) Defending champions have 28-match winning streak.

2 SANTA BARBARA

(4-0, SS-Div. I) Early-season victories over Woodbridge, Palm Desert.

3 HRVD.-WSTLK.

(3-0, SS-Div. I) Clearly the San Fernando Valley's top team.

4 WOODBRIDGE

(3-1, SS-Div. I) McClune, Suzuki one of the best 1-2 punches in Southland.

5 PALM DESERT

(3-1, SS-Div. II) Lost only one player from Division II finalist squad.

6 MATER DEI

(3-1, SS-Div. I) Kaes Van't Hof is one of the best, but depth is a concern.

7 PENINSULA

(3-2, SS-Div. I) Trevor Dobson, Whitney Reed could get team past section semis.

8 REDONDO

(4-0, SS-Div. IV) No longer taking teams by surprise after quick start.

9 IRVINE UNIVERSITY

(2-2, SS-Div. I) Losses to Peninsula, Woodbridge no reason to panic.

10 BRENTWOOD

(2-2, SS-Div. IV) Morale booster: a 10-8 loss to Corona del Mar.

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