When the San Luis Obispo High boys tennis team reached the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 finals a year ago, the Tigers were an unseeded underdog that toppled several favorites en route to their second-place finish.
Now the overall second seed with the target placed firmly on its back, San Luis Obispo opened this year’s playoff run with similar success.
Mason Hansen rolled in singles, and so did all three doubles teams as the Tigers defeated Yorba Linda 13-5 at home in Wednesday’s first-round match.
“It is pressure,” Hansen said of being seeded No. 2, “but in my mind — and the same for a lot of the returning guys — we’re still the underdogs.
“We come from a small town, and we’re not one of the bigger tennis schools, so we feel like the underdogs and that’s going to help us as we go through the tournament.”
The Tigers wasted no time in showing they were the top dog against the Mustangs, jumping out to a 4-2 lead through the first rotation with all three doubles teams winning 6-0.
Hansen wasn’t too far off pace, taking his first set 6-1.
“We’re not superpowers,” San Luis Obispo coach Ken Peet said. “We’re a solid team top to bottom, and that’s what it’s about — team. Everyone has to score a little bit.”
With a 100-degree sun beating down on the courts, the top doubles team of Josh Milla and Luke Olson conserved its energy by making quick work of all three opponents. The pair won its three sets 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 before retiring to the shade underneath the team’s yellow and black tent.
“We just played well,” said Olson, who walked around with a towel soaked in ice water clamped under his baseball hat between sets to keep cool. “They were a good team still, but it was our first 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 of the season, so that was fun.”
Noah Cleere and Alex Dill swept 6-0, 6-4, 6-1 for the Tigers, and the third doubles pairing of Scott Hicks and Adie Alwen won 6-0, 6-4 before falling to the Mustangs’ top duo, 7-6 (7-3).
“It has to do a lot with our coach, Ken Peet,” Hansen said of San Luis Obispo’s doubles domination. “He’s a doubles-minded coach and that’s a big part of it. He really emphasizes the doubles, and if you can play the doubles game, you can play with anyone.”
The Tigers coach since 1983 who has led them to more than two dozen PAC 7 championships, including this year’s title, Peet said the importance of solid top-to-bottom doubles teams cannot be overstated.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that depth is going to win,” he said. “It’s nice to have that strong guy to count on, but if I can put together doubles teams that have that chemistry and work hard, that’s our formula.”
Their strong guy, Hansen, wasn’t too shabby, either.
After his 6-1 victory in the first rotation, the senior who is looking to walk on at UC Irvine in the fall won 6-0, 6-0.
“He stepped it up last year and was dominating, and he’s got that energy, focus and game going,” Peet said. “That’s key for him, to play confident. He’s got the talent, and if he stays aggressive and confident like he did today, he’s going to dominate.”
Cameron Dong and Chase Braun both won a singles set for the Tigers (22-2), who were ranked in the top five of Division 3 for the majority of the season, but leapt to the second slot following a close loss to Division 1 Santa Barbara and a sweep of the top three doubles spots at the PAC 7 Tournament.
“Last year, we came in under the radar and now, it’s a little different pressure being seeded,” said Peet, whose team fell 13-5 to seventh-seeded Arroyo Grande in last year’s finals. “But it doesn’t matter who’s seeded and who’s not, it’s mano versus mano. We’ve got to go out and win each match.”
After dispatching of Yorba Linda, who finished third in the Empire League and made the nearly four-and-a-half hour drive to San Luis Obispo, the Tigers will travel to either Oak Park or Glendora on Friday.
“We can speculate how good they are … but we don’t need to,” Hansen said. “If we just play our game, we don’t need to know who they are and we can stack up well against them.”