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Mentally-Tough Girls’ Tennis Wins League

Morro Bay High School got a new lease on sporting life this year when it moved from the Southern Section of CIF to the Central Section and formed a new Ocean League, leaving behind the old Los Padres League.
But new beginnings have meant the world to the Girls’ Tennis Team, which won the inaugural season of the Ocean League and qualified for the playoffs, with their top singles player competing last weekend in the Section Individuals Tournament in Visalia.
Coach Kathy Dannecker said she didn’t know what to expect at the start of the school year.
“We started off the season without great expectations,” she admitted. “We had 12 seniors last year and only three returning varsity players this year — Sierra Redman, Ellena Korisheli, and Bria Kula. To make things worse, we lost several of our top JV players from last year.
“One moved out of the district, another broke her foot over the summer, and a third — Layla Self — had wrist problems necessitating surgery.”
Perhaps indicative of the team’s toughness, that injury didn’t stop her. “Layla is a left-handed player who still came out for the team,” Dannecker said, “but had to play right-handed. She did much better at this than I would have expected!”
The new Ocean League consist of Morro Bay, Templeton, Nipomo, Santa Maria, Pioneer Valley, and Mission Prep and the Lady Pirates topped everyone but Mission Prep. The girls posted a league best 9-1 record losing just once to Mission and posting a 12-8 overall record for the season.
“We played six singles and three doubles this year,” Dannecker said. “Four of the singles are allowed to play doubles, too, requiring a minimum of eight players per match.”
“Sierra, Ellena, and Bria occupied the top three spots,” Dannecker said. “Sierra was certainly the star of our team, finishing her league season undefeated in the No. 1 spot. But Ellena and Bria were also at the core of our success this year, with Ellena losing only two league matches in the No. 2 spot and Bria finishing the season undefeated in league at No. 3.”
Their Nos. 4 and 5 players were sisters — Whitney and Summer Good — a senior and junior respectively. “Both played JV in their previous seasons,” Dannecker said. “Whitney had only two losses in league. Both are very competitive players who worked hard for every point.”
The coach got a sweet surprise on the first day of practice. “We were also very excited when two freshmen, Reese Tartaglia and Riley Goldstein, showed up on the first day of practice without any tennis experience, but with a lot of athleticism and a great attitude,” Dannecker said. “We gave them a crash course in tennis and they just ‘got it’ Reese be- came our No. 6 singles player and she and Riley teamed up to become our No. 3 doubles team. Reese and Riley were undefeated in league at No. 3 doubles.” Not bad for a couple of newbies to the courts, which by the way were completely rebuilt last year as part of the school district’s Measure D building program.
Coach Dannecker got more help from last season’s junior varsity team. “Rounding out our lineup were Sophomore Diana Gutierrez and Junior Layla Self, making their varsity debuts after playing JV last year,” she explained. “Diana played the first half of the season in singles, but in the second half teamed up with Bria Kula to make up our No. 2 doubles team. Layla only played a few matches due to her wrist problems and a concussion she suffered early in the season. Tough season for Layla, but we look forward to having her play full-time next year.”
The top singles players — Sierra Redman, Ellena Korisheli — also teamed
up to play doubles in the No. 1 slot and coach Dannecker said they too went undefeated in league.
The team made the Central Section Div. 2 playoffs and reached the quarterfinals, beating Fresno’s Central H.S. 7-2, before being edged out by Bakersfield 4-5, ending the team’s season. But their top player moved on.
But with the switch to the Central Section came a switch in the playoffs, too. “In individuals competition, this year the Top 6 in each league went on to compete in an ‘Area Tournament,’ which was a CIF Prelim.,” she said. “Sierra won that tournament, solidifying her place as the No. 1 player in the Ocean League. Ellena finished fifth in the tournament, qualifying her for the CIF Prelims as well.”
Now came time to pare down these best players to a Top 4, who would then go on to play in the Regionals. “Two rounds of matches were played to deter- mine the Top 4 from the Central Coast and who would go on to the Section Individuals in Visalia,” Dannecker said. “Sierra had a bye in the first round, but beat her second round opponent, SLO’s No. 1 Lauren Rodriguez, to advance.”
For the long-time coach, this year was special. “This was probably the most focused, hard-working team I’ve ever had,” coach Dannecker said, “and the girls deserve so much credit for their success this season. We had several close matches where their mental toughness made the difference. They just refused to give up. But they also knew how to have fun and that made it a great season.”
By Neil Farrell

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