A year after the Arroyo Grande High boys tennis team put a stop to nearly a three-decade streak, it looks as if the Eagles could be reversing the trend.
Arroyo Grande clinched at least a share of the PAC 7 championship Thursday evening, the program’s second in a row, with a 15-3 win over visiting San Luis Obispo.
Last year, the Eagles defeated the Tigers for the first time in 26 years, and then followed it up with another win to sweep that season series. Both of those matches were decided 10-8.
The latest installment in the rivalry wasn’t nearly as close, though, as Arroyo Grande (15-1, 10-0), the 10th-ranked team in Division 2 of the CIF-Southern Section, got a clean sweep in singles.
“It’s huge,” Arroyo Grande sophomore star Eli Whittle said. “Knowing we’ve won it two years in a row, it just shows how far the program has come.
“Hopefully we could do something similar to what they did. Maybe we’ll win it 26 years (in a row),” Whittle said, tongue-in-cheek.
Arroyo Grande’s top two players, Whittle and fellow sophomore Sean Hollister, won 6-3, 6-0, 6-0, and 6-1, 6-1, 6-1, respectively.
Whittle improved his overall record on the season to 40-2, including a 23-1 mark in the PAC 7, while Hollister is 40-5, 25-2.
“Arroyo Grande’s a class act,” San Luis Obispo coach Ken Peet said. “They’ve got a good program. They’re playing well, and they’re the top team in the league right now.”
Jordan Hayashi also won three sets, going 6-3, 6-2, 6-1.
In doubles, Kenji McKinstry and Jason Dong led the way for the Eagles, winning 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 6-3.
“The whole team was contributing,” Hollister said. “This is big for us, because we’ve had a couple big wins, but they’ve all been close. This, for me, is a pretty convincing win for us.”
The PAC 7 finals will be May 6, with Southern Section team play beginning May 10 and individual competition starting May 20.
“Team-wise, if we play like this and we do this again, teams are going to have a tough time beating us,” Whittle said.
For San Luis Obispo (8-4, 7-2), Grant Murphy and Alec Stallman had a pair of wins in doubles, going 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.
Despite the lopsided team score, the match remained contested and occasionally was heated, with two doubles contests going to tiebreakers and lasting about a half-hour after everyone else had finished, a player throwing his racquet onto the court in frustration, and players and onlookers behind the fence good-naturedly trading quips and occasionally questioning line calls.
The two schools have had a storied history in recent years, including stars such as Arroyo Grande’s Andre Dome, Cal Poly’s highest-regarded recruit ever, and San Luis Obispo’s Julian Arnold, who played at UCLA.
Before being old enough to play in the rivalry, Hollister explained, he looked forward to it.
“We’d come out and watch the matches and always get really excited for the SLO-A.G. matches,” Hollister said. “There’s a lot more pressure when you’re playing.”
Even with Dome, though, the Eagles were unable to break through until 2010.
Coming from Nipomo, Whittle — who’s rated as a top-70 player in the Southwest region by TennisRecruiting.net — said he didn’t always imagine that he’d one day become a key player in the rivalry, but he had always heard about it growing up in local tennis circles.
“It’s nice now that we’re the ones who actually beat them,” Whittle said. “I was always wondering who would.”
Coach Lori Hollister is also confident in the Eagles’ outlook for the playoffs given the extra year of experience.
“Two years ago, we were in that developmental stage. These kids were all young, and now we’re seeing that start to pay off,” she said. “Right now we’re at a high point.
“Last year, there was a lot of hype over beating SLO and then winning league and going undefeated,” Hollister said. “We’ve come into it with kind of a different approach this year, because it’s expected of us. So it’s been just trying to maintain that level.”