By Ryan Menzie
Signal Sports Writer
Dating back to the 2016 season, the Valencia Vikings or the West Ranch Wildcats have been Foothill League champions in girls tennis, with the Vikings having won the most recent season. The Vikings have come in second place behind the Wildcats in three of the past five seasons, with one of them being cut short due to COVID-19.
So far this season, the Vikings and Wildcats sit on top once again, but the rest of the league feels it’s their time to rise to the top as we are now a little over halfway through the regular season. Here is an update on the season outlook so far:
Valencia High School
The Valencia Vikings currently hold a 13-5 record overall (6-0 league record) according to Maxpreps as of Thursday and are the reigning Foothill League champions. The Vikings look on track to repeat as champs.
The Wildcats are right behind and can make a push to secure the league title, but Valencia head coach Darrell Peries is confident his team will continue their streak.
“I think we’re going to end the season very well,” said Peries. “The main focus for the rest of the season is leadership development. We’re competing against everybody, so we got to approach each match the same way. We just need to continue working hard every single day. The girls have dominated the Foothill League so far.”
The Vikings are led by junior Sydney Thay and senior Maddie Muñana. Thay is the No.1 singles player for the Vikings and believes they have a legitimate shot of winning the league title this season and staying undefeated for the rest of the season.
“We accomplished these same goals last season and we basically have the same team,” said Thay. “With Darrell, we have a new coaching staff. They’ve implemented great coaching and practice sessions. They are very serious and lighthearted and enjoy being a team out here. I think our singles are very strong this year and our doubles have been more consistent and aggressive than ever before. We have a great team.”
Muñana, who has been on the team all four years and is part of the No. 2 doubles team, just hopes they continue to improve as the season progresses and become closer as the season goes on.
“I think we need to focus during practice to get to the CIF level,” said Muñana. “Be open to constructive criticism and be more patient. Being more aggressive on the net has helped us a lot. Just by being more aggressive at net and being more consistent and patient has helped us win more games and helped us from being decimated in tournament play.”
West Ranch High School
The West Ranch Wildcats (7-3, 5-1) look to take back their league title and are off to a strong start, holding a tie for first place with Valencia entering Wednesday. Head coach Jackie Ressler enters her second season as the girls head coach, and has her expectations set on teaching her young and new varsity team to be competitive. Ressler also used to play tennis for Hart High School.
“I want them to feel better as a competitive player,” said Ressler. “With all that pressure it’s daunting, so I want to teach them to be a better player from the start. Being a player in high school, I didn’t have anything special besides a big serve. The mentality I want instilled in my players is to treat every point like it’s your last point. My goals were to always read my opponents’ thoughts and try to mentally tire them out.”
The Wildcats are led by senior Layla Ayoub and junior Abigail Pak. Ayoub, who has been on the team all four years, says she’s excited about the season. Ayoub thinks it’s been good for the team to see different people and interact with the team.
“We just have to keep practicing hard every day in order for us to be able to make it to CIF,” said Ayoub. “Our coach always tells us to have a strong mindset and never focus on the past even if we lose. I want the seniors to go out and have fun one last time and have the young talent put out as much effort as possible for us, while having fun.”
Pak has been on the team for the previous three seasons and just hopes the team results will mirror the amount of effort the team has been putting into each practice.
“I really think we need to push ourselves as much as we can,” said Pak. “We just have to keep building teamwork and working on our shots if we want to make it far this season.”
Saugus High School
The Saugus Centurions (5-4, 1-3) sit in third place and look to end the streak of Valencia or West Ranch sitting on top of the Foothill League. The Centurions are led by second-year head coach Bailey Sindle, who has already made an impact on her players and helping them feel more confident in themselves on and off the court.
“We had a strong season this past spring, so I definitely want to continue with that momentum moving forward,” said Sindle. “I expect us to do fairly strong in league and we have been doing very well so far. I remind these girls that they are good enough. They know how to play tennis, they have the strokes, the mental toughness, and the hunger to win, but I also remind them that high school tennis is meant to be a fun experience to compete and develop friendships and enjoy spending time together.”
The Centurions are led by sophomore Beylee Renfro and senior Chloe Hong. It’s Renfro’s second season on the team and she believes the team has improved since last season and for the second round of league competition they can do better.
“We’ve done better in some matches than I expected us to do,” said Renfro. “Our coach always tells us to play to win, not play to lose. When we worry too much about making errors, we lose focus on just having fun. We just got to focus on playing the game how we’re used to playing.”
Hong, who has been on the team all four years, doesn’t plan on playing at the college level and sees tennis as more of a hobby. Hong wants to focus on academics when she’s done with high school, but with this season going she wants the rest of the team to focus on practicing consistency and being more aggressive and confident.
“I think this year since we have so many good players and a lot of us have been on the team for many years, I see us getting far,” said Hong. “In practice we are confident, so if we take the confidence from practice into the game it will propel us to CIF. I just want to tell my team to be confident because every single one of them is amazing and I love them all and they can do everything they set their minds to. I believe in all of them.”
Golden Valley High School
The Golden Valley Grizzlies (1-4, 0-3) sit behind the Centurions in fourth place. With much of the season left to go, 11-year head coach Josh Stimac is confident the girls can push their way to the top of the league.
“Right now, I expect my girls to get better with each match that they play,” said Stimac. “This season we still improve as we continue to compete. I have a lot of seniors on the team. They come in with a lot of experience and they’re a close-knit team. Again, our mentality is to go out and fight and get better every match.”
Canyon High School
Cowboys head coach Richard Bristow enters his eighth season as a coach and the team is tied with Hart and Golden Valley for fourth place. The Cowboys (1-4, 0-3) have a relatively young team so the goal for Bristow and his team is to continue to improve and get better each match.
“I want us to truly believe that we can compete with anybody in the league if we play smart,” said Bristow. “We need to play a lot more outside of practice. We have to build a community of tennis here in Canyon Country that gets kids playing early. Many of our players have never played tennis before high school and it can feel like we are catching up.”
Hart High School
The Hart Indians (4-5, 0-2) also sit in fourth place in the Foothill League and are led by six-year head coach Allan Hardbarger. Hardbarger’s goal for his girls is to have them go after every single ball, but it all starts with believing that they can.
“I think the girls have had a really strong first half of the season,” said Hardbarger. “We’ve been very competitive in our matches. We’ve also won some big matches and lost a few. There is definitely room to improve but we just have to continue to be resilient and fight for every point.”
The Indians are led by senior captain Madison Woo, who has been on the team all four years, and junior Bella Galoostian, who is entering her second season as a varsity player.
“I’m really proud of how the team has played so far,” said Woo. “I just want us to be competitive but don’t lose sight of the team and the friendships we were making in the atmosphere or environment. We obviously all love tennis and want to win, but the people you play alongside truly shape the team experience. The players on our team create a fun and encouraging yet still competitive atmosphere, which makes playing for Hart with these girls so special.”
Galoostian wants to see herself improve with the team, but mainly wants to improve on her serving.
“I feel like everyone’s gotten better,” said Galoostian. “We need to play smart, calm and go out there with a clever mindset. In the pandemic everyone was by themselves. Now that I’m here with the team, I’m focusing on staying calm on the court. Tennis is about having fun.”
Castaic High School
Last but certainly not least, the newest program of the Foothill League belongs to coach David Schwartz and the Castaic Coyotes. Schwartz enters his first year as a head coach, while the program is entering its second season. The goal for Schwartz and the team is to continue to grow the program.
“For these girls, it’s their first season playing a team sport, it’s been all brand new for them,” said Schwartz. “Getting in and out of class for the bus. Doing a bit of training and hitting tennis balls. We’re all handling it well. Hopefully they have a better understanding by next year.”
The young Coyotes are led by juniors Abigail Barquero and Jaden Austria and sophomore Karlie Rice. Barquero understands the program is new, so she sets smaller goals of trying to win sets against the bigger schools and to hopefully improve into next season.
“Practices have been great,” said Barquero. “I love my team. We do drills and practices as a team. This is our first real varsity season so the coach always tells us to go out there and try our best.”
Rice thought the season would be way more intense, but since she grew closer to her team it’s been a lot of fun for her.
“Our coach really makes sure we have fun, but makes sure we put in the work to be able to have fun,” said Rice. “I love my team and I wish them the best of luck for the rest of the season.”
Austria sees that her team has better strategy for singles and doubles from playing every school, so she hopes to take more sets and hopefully some matches moving forward. However, Austria has only played during the pandemic so all seems normal to her so far.
“Recently we’ve been moving a lot of people around, so I think if we keep people in the same spots it will be better moving forward,” said Rice. “I haven’t played a season without the pandemic, so I don’t really know what normal is. This is what I’m used to, but this season has been better with more competition and more people committed.”