For all the league success Sophie Whittle has gathered in her Arroyo Grande High girls tennis career — and with an undefeated record and three PAC 7 singles titles, you could say nobody’s achieved more — there was just one thing left on her league season bucket list.
The standout senior wanted to play doubles, and even though the Eagles on Tuesday hosted the only team that’s come close to breaking their lengthy league winning streak, coach Lori Hollister obliged.
Whittle kept rolling with a partner and a wider court, and Arroyo Grande showed its depth in defeating San Luis Obispo 12-6 for its 58th straight PAC 8 victory.
“She really wanted to play doubles today, and I really wanted to do that because it forced the other girls to step up,” said Hollister, whose team all but assured itself of a fifth straight league title with its second win over the Tigers this season. “Sometimes, when you have a strong singles players like that, they get too reliant on that No. 1 player.”
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The coach admitted she was wary about making the switch against an opponent as strong as San Luis Obispo (10-4, 8-2), but left the decision up to her seniors.
“To be frank, I had mixed emotions about it,” Hollister said. “It wasn’t Sophie that I was concerned about; it was if the match were tight that we might give up those games in singles.
“It ended up being a very balanced match because our singles players stepped up.”
Whittle paired with Elizabeth Michniuk to sweep their sets, the doubles tandem of Angelica Gagliano and Olivia Madison also swept, and Mary Waterman won all three of her singles sets for the Eagles (17-3, 10-0).
Hannah Angle moved from doubles to singles and took two sets, while the doubles team of Melina Rodgers and Mekayla Landers won twice.
“I know there’s always room for improvement, but I don’t think there’s anything we could be doing more right now,” said Madison, who teamed with fellow senior Gagliano to win their sets 6-0, 6-2, 6-2. “We looked good in these matches, and I know that we’re improving every day.”
Jenny Zakaria was the lone multiple set winner for San Luis Obispo, opening with wins of 6-3 and 7-5 before falling to Waterman 6-3.
Sophia Moreno and McKenzie Berkshire both won a set in singles, while Caroline Burke and Sam Good played a close set with Rodgers and Landers, with the Tigers tandem winning in a tiebreaker 7-6 (0).
Anna Lippold and Fiona Huffaker opened with a 6-0 win and were the only San Luis Obispo doubles squad to take a game from Whittle and Michniuk, eventually falling 6-3.
“It’s great to have such a competitive rivalry,” said Tigers assistant coach Terri Main, who is filling in for coach Rosemarie Will while she is out of town for personal reasons. “They always play us tough. I think our girls today really gave them a run for their money. We battled hard, and we were in there until the last round.”
Arroyo Grande led 4-2 after the first rotation and 7-5 after the second before pulling away with a 5-1 advantage in the final round.
In the first meeting Sept. 18 at San Luis Obispo, the Tigers jumped out to a 4-2 lead before the Eagles took 10 of the final 12 sets.
“We have a tendency to finish well,” Hollister said. “That’s what this team has always been about.”
Arroyo Grande has four more PAC 8 matches this season, but with the positive results against the Tigers in hand, the senior class will likely go out undefeated in league play.
“This is what we practice for,” Gagliano said. “We were told not to come out nervous and play like it’s any other match, and that’s what we did.”
For Hollister, the way her team won against its top rival was just as reassuring as the result itself with her Eagles now competing in CIF-Southern Section Division 2 after winning a Division 3 title last year.
“I’m happy with the diversity we’ve added to our team,” she said. “We’ve had girls come off the bench the last couple weeks; we’ve moved girls from singles to doubles, and that really pleases me.
“When you move forward to CIF, if you have an injury, or anything else, it’s nice to know you can mix up your lineup and pull. That part of our scheme has been great.”