Nearly three decades of a very specific kind of frustration are no more for the Arroyo Grande High boys tennis team.
The Eagles defeated archrival San Luis Obispo in a league dual for the first time in 26 years on Thursday afternoon, 10-8 in Arroyo Grande.
“I’m incredibly proud,” Arroyo Grande coach Lori Hollister said. “I don’t even have the words to say how much this means to these boys, this school and the Arroyo Grande community.”
The closeness of the match, which featured five tiebreakers, brought out plenty of emotion from both sides.
“We really wanted this match,” Arroyo Grande’s Eli Whittle said. “If there was one match we could’ve won all year, it was this one.”
After giving up an early lead in what became a 7-6 (7-1) loss to the Eagles’ Sean Hollister, for instance, San Luis Obispo’s Coco Angulo threw his racquet over the fence in disgust.
At other moments throughout, students among the onlooking crowd of about 100 traded good-natured barbs until a cluster of Eagles fans erupted in celebration after clinching the match in doubles play.
“It was a great match,” said Ken Peet, the Tigers’ coach since 1983. “We knew Arroyo Grande was very tough this year. “Obviously, I’m proud of (the streak),” Peet added, “but I want to emphasize I’m proud of these guys. Streaks get broken, and hey, we’ll start another one. The year’s not over. We lost a good match to a good team.”
Downing San Luis Obispo was a feat the Eagles were unable to pull off even when they had Andre Dome, a 2008 grad now playing at Cal Poly who was widely rated as one of the 10 best recruits in the nation as a senior.
“I remember a couple years ago watching Andre and them play, and Andre played really solid in singles and always won, but the depth (of the team overall) wasn’t as solid,” Whittle said. “We really felt like we had a good team this year.”
Whittle, a freshman rated as the No. 59 player in the Southwest region in his class by TennisRecruiting.net, provided the strongest individual performance for Arroyo Grande, which entered ranked No. 7 in the latest CIF-Southern Section Division 2 poll.
Whittle, now 13-0 against PAC 7 opponents, dispatched Tigers No. 1 James Campbell 6-2, Angulo 6-0 and Shahrukh Syed 6-0.
“He doesn’t seem to feel the pressure,” Lori Hollister said of Whittle. “He seems to be more mature than his age dictates.” Sean Hollister, also a freshman, went 7-6 (7-1), 6-1, 4-6.
Campbell, a senior, led the Tigers’ singles efforts by going 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.
“James battled hard today,” Peet said. “He’s a fighter.”
Four of the tiebreakers took place in doubles, where Arroyo Grande (9-2, 6-0 PAC 7) took five contests and was able to capitalize on its 7-5 lead after two rounds.
“I put it all in their hands,” said Hollister, who didn’t use any subs throughout the match. “They felt they were the stronger team today, and that it would just be a matter of holding up under the pressure, and they did that.”
The Eagles got a pair of doubles wins from both Ian Moynagh and Jordan Hayashi, who went 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-0), 6-3, and Danny Williams and Evan Lange, who went 6-2, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3.
The duo of Robbie Milla and Grant Murphy won two for San Luis Obispo, going 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-2), 2-6.
With the historic victory, Arroyo Grande undoubtedly will be targeted as the favorite in the PAC 7.
The Tigers (5-7, 4-1 PAC 7) have fielded a young team by their standards this year, with only four of 13 players being seniors. They’ll host a rematch May 4 in a regular-season finale that could determine the league champion.
“Right now, we’re the team to beat,” Whittle said. “Of course, we’ve never felt that feeling, because we’ve never beaten SLO (prior to now), but all the teams (in the PAC 7) are going to be out to beat us.”