CLAREMONT — Having watched the girls team fall short in the finals last fall, the Arroyo Grande High boys tennis team was determined not to suffer the same fate in Friday afternoon’s Southern Section Division 3 championship match at The Claremont Club.
The seventh-seeded Eagles defeated PAC 7 rival San Luis Obispo for the third time this season to capture the first Southern Section tennis title in school history with a 13-5 victory and earned an automatic berth to the Southern California Regionals, which begin next week.
“We weren’t overconfident. We knew what we were up against,” said Arroyo Grande coach Lori Hollister, whose team is 48-0 in league play and 87-14 overall the past four seasons. “The pressure was on us, and we responded to the challenge.”
The Eagles (22-5) were simply too strong in singles, winning all nine sets and dropping only seven games. Eli Whittle swept 6-2, 6-0, 6-0, and fellow senior Sean Hollister swept by identical scores, clinching the victory by blanking Tigers senior Brooks Rossi early in the third round. Playing No. 3 singles, junior Derek Lakowske avenged a loss to Tigers top player Mason Hansen in the teams’ first league meeting.
The result was especially satisfying for Whittle and Hollister, who combined to win 29 of 30 sets in the playoffs and were the catalysts in reversing the trend against their league nemesis.
“When we got here, we hadn’t beaten them in 27 years, so we were just hoping to beat them once,” said Hollister, who is headed for UC Santa Cruz. “I didn’t imagine then that I’d never lose to them in four years, but it feels good knowing we’ve left a legacy.”
Whittle, who will play collegiate tennis at Brown, improved his singles record to 65-2 this season and has a 229-13 career mark.
“This is awesome, especially since I’m a senior,” Whittle said. “I think the first set (against Hansen) set the tone because he hadn’t lost in the playoffs, and we knew they’d be fired up to play us. He has a big serve and forehand, so I kept it to his backhand and came to the net every chance I got.”
Luke Iunker and Noah Cleere swept at No. 2 doubles for the unseeded Tigers (19-5), who lost to Arroyo Grande twice in PAC 7 play but rebounded to knock off four league champions to reach Friday’s final — including a 10-8 upset of top-seeded Placentia Valencia in the second round.
“We’ve been playing our best tennis in the playoffs, so we thought we could do it,” Cleere said. “We swept our three sets both times against them in league, but their doubles have improved.
“We figured we’d have to get seven or eight of the doubles points and Mason (Hansen) could get a couple in singles.”
It was a tough afternoon for Hansen, who was serving at 6-5 but lost three set points against Hollister in the teams’ first league match, which Arroyo Grande won on games, 79-74. He was sick and not at his best Friday.
“Eli is a great player,” Hansen said, “but I was hoping I could beat Sean and I’d never lost to Derek Lakowske before, so I’m disappointed I couldn’t get us a point.”
The Eagles led 8-4 after two rounds thanks to a 6-3 win at No. 2 doubles by Bryan Rozo and Tyler Anderson against the Tigers’ No. 1 duo of Josh Milla and Scott Hicks.
San Luis Obispo will find out Sunday if it is selected to the Southern California Regionals.
“Give them credit; doubles has been our strength all year but today they held their own against us,” Tigers coach Ken Peet said. “We were up 3-0 at No. 3 doubles in the first round, and their guys came back to win so instead of 3-3 heading into the second round, they were ahead 4-2. We played so many close matches and had to fight so hard just to make it this far, maybe it caught up with us today.”