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Szabo: Newport's good Knight

October 12, 2013|By Matt Szabo
(SCOTT SMELTZER…)

Newport Harbor High senior Kate Knight has had quite a ride with the Sailors girls' tennis team.

In Knight's first three years on varsity with the Sailors, they won the Sunset League twice, advancing to the CIF Southern Section Division 2 title match in 2010 and '11. Even after Newport Harbor was moved up to Division 1 last year, the Sailors advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

That's what Knight is most proud of, the team accomplishments. Yet she deserves the accolades for her individual performance as well.

Knight was a substitute player as a freshman and sophomore, able to play both singles and doubles. She improved a lot by playing USTA tournaments. Yet she was thrust onto the big stage at the end of that sophomore year, when Coach Kristen Case inserted her into the singles lineup during the Sailors' second run to the CIF title match. She didn't have a choice, as then-senior captain Blake Bakkila suffered a sprained ankle just before the playoffs began.

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"It was crazy, but that's just how deep our team is," Knight said. "Anybody's got to be ready to go in at any time. I had to be ready ... there was no other option."

Knight stepped up. She won a singles set in the Sailors' 14-4 Division 2 quarterfinal victory at Arcadia. Two days later, she won another set in Newport Harbor's memorable 11-7 semifinal win at San Marino, a match that lasted four-and-a-half hours.

"That was very big," Coach Kristen Case said. "It's amazing to have watched her grow up the way she has, both on and off the court. She has matured so much, and it's helped her game immensely. She plays now with an incredible amount of confidence. In the beginning, I don't think she quite trusted herself. The talent has always been there, it's just been about her finding her way, and gaining the experience and gaining the toughness. When she first came in, I don't think she saw those amazing qualities she possesses."

A year later, when Knight was a junior, the Sailors' other two singles players — Annie Radeva and Natalie Cernius — did not return to the team. Knight elevated to the No. 1 singles spot, one she's held for the past two years, and advanced to the Sunset League tournament semifinals. She's a co-captain, a position she shares with senior doubles player Reagan Rutter.

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