Junior Sarah Blair, shown against Kennedy earlier this season, faced Loara's Jennifer Cornea in the Empire Leauge singles finals Wendesday at the Anaheim Tennis Center.

Loara's Cornea survives fight for Empire singles title

Loara's Cornea survives fight for Empire singles title
Valencia's Blair pushes her for nearly three hours.

ANAHEIM Loara's Jennifer Cornea made her final line call, let out a loud “C'mon!” and raised her fists as she made her way to net.

She made it through an almost three-hour, three-set slugfest with Valencia's Sarah Blair, winning 6-1, 5-7, 7-5 to earn the Empire League's singles championship Wednesday evening at the Anaheim Tennis Center.

“I'm speechless,” Cornea said. “I didn't totally believe I could do it after the second set.”

Cornea, a junior, entered as the top seed, a 30-0 league record, and the MVP award. Blair, also a junior, won the singles title as a freshman before losing in the finals as a sophomore and was seeded second.

Cornea won the two league meetings 7-5 and 6-2, but didn't want to think about that Wednesday.

“She was equal today,” Cornea said of Blair. “I beat her in league, but that doesn't mean anything here.”

Blair was behind a break at 4-5 in the second set before rallying for the final three games to force the decisive set. The third set began with a Cornea break, then the drama hit.

Ahead 3-1, Cornea aggravated her lower back reaching for a shot. She needed an injury timeout to deal with it and was bothered by it the rest of the match.

Blair fought back to even the set at 3, then took a 5-4 lead after holding at love. In the final games Blair appeared as if she was hurting as well. She eventually called an injury timeout in the final game and attended to her left calf.

“It was a great high school tennis match,” Valencia coach Mike McCall said. “It's a shame someone had to lose. I think both struggled with injuries. Both should be proud of their performance and effort.”

The action picked up quickly after the first set, with Blair's attacking and aggressive play contrasting with Cornea's defensive ability. The rallies were long, the ball-striking clean and the winners loud.

“Winning it the way she did shows her perseverance,” Loara coach Shelly Noble said. “She was fighting until the end. She was hanging in there. That's what champions do.

“It was a couple points here and there. Sarah is a gracious player. My hat is off to her.”

Blair understood the challenge she was facing, evidenced by their league sets. She said their first meeting could have gone either way, but that she needed to improve from the second one to have a shot Wednesday.

“I did that,” she said. “It was just a bit too late. It was a good match. Jenn was playing smart. I had a slow start, but I managed to find my rhythm.”

In the doubles finals, Valencia's Candace Wu and Natalie McKay repeated as champions. They defeated Cypress' Karen Woo and Batrice Nguy 6-0, 6-2. They senior duo reached the Round of 16 in CIF last year.

“We are best friends,” said McKay about why they work well together. “We hang outside of school.”

The Tigers had eight of their nine players reach the semifinals. Felicia Hsu beat Cypress' Kelsey Toyoda in three sets, 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, in the third-place singles match.

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