High School Sports

Whittle sets pace for Arroyo Grande girls tennis team

Arroyo Grande High sophomore Sophie Whittle, the defending PAC 7 girls singles champion, didn’t lose a game in three set victories over San Luis Obispo on Thursday. The Eagles rolled to a 17-1 win over the Tigers.
Arroyo Grande High sophomore Sophie Whittle, the defending PAC 7 girls singles champion, didn’t lose a game in three set victories over San Luis Obispo on Thursday. The Eagles rolled to a 17-1 win over the Tigers. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Sophie Whittle seems to play at a different pace when she’s on the tennis court compared with her opponents.

The Arroyo Grande High sophomore led a dominant performance against rival San Luis Obispo on the Tigers’ home court Thursday, winning 17-1.

Whittle, the Eagles’ number one singles player, did not drop a game in three sets against the three Tigers players she faced, winning 6-0, 6-0, 6-0, and helping her team to carry on a 29-match winning streak in PAC 7 league play over the past three years.

The victory improved the Eagles’ record to 7-1 overall and 5-0 in the PAC 7 while dropping the Tigers to 4-4 overall and 3-1 in league play.

The Eagles were ranked second in Division 3 and San Luis Obispo is fourth this week in the CIF-Southern Section rankings.

Whittle’s game featured efficient, flat groundstrokes. She attacked second serves with aggressive returns, often for winners. And she used a booming first serve, striking the ball high using her leverage, to rack up easy points.

“She’s extremely good at setting up her points,” San Luis Obispo coach Gary Etheridge said. “And she hits winners. Any player that can hit winners from the backcourt, and not just push the ball back, that’s big.”

Whittle and the Eagles’ second-ranked singles player, Lauren Hayashi, who also won her three sets Thursday 6-0, 6-1, 6-0, benefit from playing tennis year-round and working with private coaches.

The Eagles’ sixth-year coach, Lori Hollister, said Whittle and Hayashi have a lot of enthusiasm for tennis and work hard at it.

“They’re the best high school players in the county,” Hollister said. “Lauren is such a hard worker and she’s unselfish and a team player. Sophie is just a great athlete in general and hits beautiful, consistent groundstrokes.”

Whittle is undefeated in league during her high school career (she carries a 23-2 overall record this year). Hayashi, a junior, has only lost once in league this year (her overall record is 22-5).

They play each other in practice as part of their training regimen, which consists of conditioning and hitting.

“We practice hitting cross-court shots,” Hayashi said. “We’ll play against each other. We do core workouts.”

Hayashi’s game features groundstrokes with topspin. Whittle, who hits a flatter ball, said her strongest groundstroke is her two-handed backhand, but she tries to work on all aspects of her game in hopes to play in college.

“I’m most comfortable with my backhand,” Whittle said. “When I work with my (private coach Mark Scribner), we practice getting mechanics down with pretty much everything.”

In addition to her two top players, Hollister highlighted the performance of Alex Mero, who she said has great footspeed on the court. Mero won 6-1, 6-2, 6-0.

The Eagles’ doubles team of Amber Domako and Zoe Miller won their matches 6-2, 6-0, 6-2.

The Tigers only point came on the final match of the day with teammates from both squads gathered at the far end of the court to cheer them on.

Darla Berkefeld and Courtney Gallagher won 7-5 in a tightly contested doubles set against Joanne Phung and Christa Osumi.

Despite the blowout, Hollister acknowledged that the Tigers for years were the dominant team in the county and that the “tides come and go.”

Etheridge said that in past years, San Luis Obispo won more than 70 league matches in a row as a team. And he credits this year’s team with being able to bounce back from losses very well.

The Tigers’ top singles player, Maya O’Brien was all smiles even after the tough defeat at home.

“We know they’re a good team,” O’Brien said. “We won’t feel bad about this. We won’t be discouraged.”

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