Derek Lakowske was able to stave off Mason Hansen’s comeback attempt, but the Arroyo Grande High senior captain’s sweep in singles was not enough to stop San Luis Obispo’s return to the top of PAC 7 boys tennis.
The Tigers won 14 of the other 15 sets Tuesday at home, showing superior depth in all but reclaiming their spot as conference champions after a 26-year title run gave way to four straight Arroyo Grande crowns.
San Luis Obispo (19-1, 10-0) clinches at least a share of the PAC 7 title, and has to win at either St. Joseph or Righetti to take it outright.
“We have a history that’s had us on the top, and we haven’t been there in four years,” said Tigers coach Ken Peet, whose team is ranked fourth in CIF-Southern Section Division 3. “The guys have worked hard this year and they earned this.
“This is a great rivalry. They’re really well coached, and they’re guys that respect the game real well. It’s just a lot of good tennis.”
Since Peet took over as San Luis Obispo’s coach in 1983, the Tigers-Eagles rivalry had been decidedly one-sided, with the Tigers topping the league every year until 2010.
But for his players that hit the courts Tuesday to combat the Eagles and an unforgiving spring sun, it was a different story.
In fact, it was the complete opposite.
“Coming in my freshman year, we were coming off our first loss to (to Arroyo Grande) after our reign of however long,” said Tigers senior Josh Milla, who teamed with Luke Olson to win their three doubles sets. “So it was rough coming in, but I’m glad we got it back my senior year.”
San Luis Obispo dominated the doubles matches, as Milla and Olson won 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 and the pairings of Noah Cleere and Alex Dill, and Scott Hicks and Adie Alwen also swept their three sets.
Cameron Dong won two of three singles sets for the Tigers, and Chase Braun and Ryan Hseih each picked up one point.
“I think the depth is really what’s going to carry us at CIF, and it’s what’s carrying us through league right now,” Milla said. “You can have one or two good players, but if you don’t have depth, you’re going to have a hard time winning.”
That was the problem facing Arroyo Grande after the program said goodbye to Eli Whittle and Sean Hollister. The two standouts headlined the Eagles’ four-year stay atop the league standings — a run that culminated with a CIF-Southern Section Division 3 championship when they defeated, you guessed it, San Luis Obispo 13-5 in the finals.
Lakowske, who is one of just two back from that section-winning squad, did all he could Tuesday, sweeping his singles sets, including a tiebreaker win over Hansen in a match pitting both teams’ top singles players.
“Last year he was our No. 3 player, and he just stepped up into that leadership role as a captain,” Arroyo Grande coach Lori Hollister said. “He’s just an absolute team player. He’s an intrinsically motivated person in everything that he does.”
After falling to Hansen handily when San Luis Obispo topped the Eagles 14-4 in March to snap Arroyo Grande’s 49-match PAC 7 win streak, Lakowske countered by forcing Hansen to his backhand as well as employing a serve-and-volley technique on most of his serves.
The senior built a 5-3 lead before Hansen broke Lakowske’s serve and held serve to tie the set. After both broke one more time, Lakowske won the final four points of the tiebreaker to win 7-6 (7-3).
Peet said Hansen is battling some tendonitis, and after winning his second set 6-4 in the second rotation, he sat out the third.
“He would have fought through it if we needed him,” Peet said. “He was not his sharpest out there, but Derek played him well and beat him.”
As exhilarating as the win was for Arroyo Grande, with fans and players from both teams hooting and hollering after every point in the tiebreaker — most taking shade from the 90-plus temperature — it was the only victory the Eagles (13-8, 9-2) claimed in the first rotation.
The same goes for the second round, when Lakowske’s 6-0 victory was dwarfed by five San Luis Obispo triumphs, which clinched the match and likely the league title for the Tigers.
“It’s tough to lose to SLO after beating them every year I’ve been here,” Lakowske said, “but when you’re losing to a team that’s better than you, you can’t complain.”