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KYUSUNG GONG , STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
With singles standout Bjorn Hoffmann leading the way, Corona del Mar will look to bounce back from its disappointing 2015 season.

CdM looks to reclaim spot among O.C. tennis powers

STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH Regarded as one of Orange County’s historically celebrated boys tennis programs, Corona del Mar found itself in foreign territory at the onset of last May’s playoffs: at home.

“It was very weird,” junior Matthew Paulsen said. “It stinks we were the first ones in awhile to miss out.”

That shouldn’t be the case this year.

In welcoming back blue-chip senior Bjorn Hoffmann along with a trio of talented newcomers, the Sea Kings appear poised to challenge for the Pacific Coast League title and one of the division’s top seeds when the postseason rolls around.

“Kind of an exciting year for us and the kids are really a close group that are finding their way through it all,” Coach Jamie Gresh said. “Having Bjorn as a senior and adding Pedro (Fernandez del Valle) – another top player – we’re looking for them to carry a lot of the load with the other guys filling in their roles.”

Like Hoffmann, Fernandez del Valle is a five-star senior recruit that will plug right into the Sea Kings No. 2 singles slot behind his talented counterpart, arguably forming the county’s best one-two individual punch.

After attending CdM as a freshman and playing a role in the team’s 2013 Division 1 runner-up finish, Fernandez del Valle moved to Florida where he starred on his Wiregrass Ranch High squad that won back-to-back state championships the past two seasons.

When the tennis academy he was attending folded, he and his younger brother, Diego, moved back to Corona del Mar along with their family.

Diego – a three-star sophomore – will become eligible and add to the Sea Kings overall depth on April 4. Also added to the mix is freshman Kyle Pham, who has locked down the No. 3 singles spot in the absence of the youngest Fernandez del Valle brother.

The timing of it all couldn’t have come at a better time for the Sea Kings, who finished fourth in the Pacific Coast League last season with an 8-10 overall record, and a 4-6 mark in league.

“We have more weapons this year,” Gresh said. “I basically added my two, three, four players and five through nine have stayed the same.”

The one spot, of course, was never a concern. A year after finishing as the runner-up in the Ojai Tournament, Hoffmann returns as one of the top seniors in the country – ranked No. 21 nationally – and will be a threat to win every major tournament he plays in.

“We’re definitely helping each other out because we’re very competitive – in a good way – against each other,” Fernandez del Valle said of Hoffmann, who was home sick on this recent practice session. “It’s fun to have someone that can help you grow and push you as a person and as a player on the team.”

The same cast of characters will challenge Corona del Mar along the way. Top-ranked University is loaded with talent and depth, and Beckman returns seven starters on a squad that advanced to last year’s Division 1 semifinals.

But with a few fresh faces and a hunger to get back to the stage it’s used to playing on, CdM has lofty aspirations in what should be one heck of a bounce back season.

“Our goals are to win CIF,” Fernandez del Valle said. “Right now, some of the doubles aren’t comfortable with each other because they just started playing together. But as the season progresses, they’re just going to get more and more comfortable, and that’s going to be a huge factor.”

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BOYS TENNIS PREVIEW

Contact the writer: kconnolly@ocregister.com


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