Sandwiched between a pair of 6-0 victories that helped the Arroyo Grande High girls tennis team win in the opening round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoffs, star senior Sophie Whittle took a few moments to discuss her future after a sparking high school career.
Whittle confirmed Wednesday she has verbally committed to Gonzaga, and will make the commitment official next Wednesday when she signs a National Letter of Intent during a ceremony held in the Arroyo Grande Gymnasium.
“I originally planned on staying in California, and I was going on my visit to Gonzaga just to see a school out of state,” Whittle, a Nipomo native, said. “I didn’t think I’d actually want to go there … but I really liked it.
“The campus reminded me of a California campus. It’s a little smaller, but it actually has seasons and the trees were different colors. The coaches were really good, too, and all of their facilities and academics were good. I’m excited.”
Whittle, a four-star recruit by TennisRecruiting.net who went 121-0 in league play with four PAC 8 championships, chose the Bulldogs after also considering Loyola Marymount, UC Santa Barbara, Cal Poly and UC Davis.
“I just had to figure out the positives and negatives about each campus,” she said. “I really didn’t have many negatives about Gonzaga.”
That is, except for the Pacific Northwest’s propensity for precipitation.
“The weather and being out of state,” were the only negatives, Whittle said. “But they come to California all the time. Their whole conference is in California besides Portland and BYU. I would be coming back to California all the time.”
Gonzaga competes in the West Coast Conference alongside Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Pacific, Saint Mary’s, Portland, BYU, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Clara.
The Bulldogs were 9-10 last year under head coach D.J. Gurule, falling in the opening round of the conference championships to San Francisco as the No. 7 seed.
Whittle’s older brother, Eli, was also a four-star recruit who played his freshman year at Brown before transferring to UC Davis.
Sophie said she discussed the recruiting process with him, but couldn’t help feeling weighed down at times during her official visits.
“I went on them all back-to-back, so that was three weekends in a row,” she said. “I felt overwhelmed with missing a lot of school and making a decision of where I wanted to be the next four years. It was kind of stressful sitting in all those meetings and always having to repeat myself … but I knew once I finished all of those, I’d just be able to make a decision.”
Her high school coach, Lori Hollister, said any stress or anxiety Whittle might have felt during her recruitment never carried over to practice or matches with the Eagles.
“I never saw her show any of that,” Hollister said. “I think she knew that would probably reflect on the team a little bit, and in no way would she want the team to feel her stress about a decision like that.
“Sophie’s such a team player, and that’s what separates her from a lot of players of her caliber. A lot of those players wouldn’t even play on the team, but she really enjoys the team and they really enjoy her.”
Mekayla Landers, one of the other six seniors on the Eagles roster, said Whittle’s attitude — in addition to her racket — make her the special teammate she is.
“She’s a really humble player,” Landers said. “Not only is she amazing at playing tennis, she’s also really supportive of all of our girls. If we’re having a good day or a rough day, she’s always there cheering us on. She’s never just sitting aside worrying about herself; she’s always helping our team out.”