Photo One: For the first time in Rancho Cotate High School history, the girl's tennis team brought home a championship pennant! The team was award the NBL Redwood Championship banner after defeating the Piner High School team Thurs., Oct. 24. The team is currently undefeated and will play their last home match against Ukiah Tues., Nov. 5, after the match was pushed back due to the fires. Seniors Abigail Appleton, Emmy Avila, Jalissa Acker, Jessica Teixeira, Kylie Perry, Megan Castellanos, Natalie Ortiz, Sarah Bedoka and Shelby Goebel will be honored prior to their games.
Photo by Jane Peleti
Photo Two: Julie Phan, a junior at Rancho Cotate High School was undefeated her sophomore year and is currently undefeated her junior year, she also earned the Player of the Year award during her sophomore year. She is part of Rancho's history as the girl's tennis team clinched the NBL Redwood Championship title for the first time in the school's history. The team is currently undefeated with a rematch against Ukiah to be rescheduled due to the fires.
Photo by Jane Peleti
Three years ago, Paul Lovelace started out as just a volunteer tennis coach for the Rancho Cotate Women’s Tennis Team. At the time, the program was at the bottom. Lovelace had very few players to work with. Fast forward three years, the Cougars are undefeated and on the verge of winning the program’s first ever championship. So, what’s the secret? The secret is in recruiting.
Those who aren’t familiar with the team might ask why is recruiting significant? They might be thinking every program has to recruit players. Why is Rancho tennis so different? Let Lovelace explain it in his own words.
“My granddaughter is on the team, she’s the number two singles player,” Lovelace said. “So, I said listen, let’s get the girls together and start recruiting other players in the school.” She went and got softball players, soccer players and lacrosse players.
Rancho isn’t a school that breeds tennis players. Schools like Maria Carrillo and Cardinal Newman often times have 40 or 50 players to choose from, whereas Rancho has to recruit players from other sports. Having to recruit players puts the Cougars at a disadvantage because most of these girls don’t know how to even hold a racket when they start playing.
“We don’t breed tennis players because we don’t have any clubs nearby,” Lovelace said. “You need to have country clubs. If you have a good golf team, then you probably have a couple of tennis players.”
Though the Cougars don’t have the luxury of country clubs like Fountain Grove, they do have smart, coordinated, and dedicated athletes from other sports. These girls from sports like softball, soccer and lacrosse all have the coordination necessary to pick up the game.
This season has illustrated how much the recruiting has paid off. The first season was focused around recruiting, last year the team had players to work with and this season the girls are putting it all together to the tune of an undefeated season. This is something most wouldn’t believe if they saw the program three years ago.
“In 2014 I think there were only 4 girls,” Lovelace said. “Fortunately, the girls who are now seniors are socially active and have good reputations around campus. They were able to use their reputation to bring girls who are athletes along with them. This is really the only way tennis works at Rancho.”
Most on campus and in the community don’t care about the process, they only care about results. The girls being so close to winning a title are rock stars on campus and community members come out to show their support to the program. Having this reputation will only help the tennis program continue to flourish.
Perhaps the most important person for the Rancho tennis program is junior phenom Julie Phan. Phan went undefeated last season as a sophomore while qualifying for the NCS Tournament. She is well on her way to accomplishing the same feat again. She enters this weekend undefeated and is the building block for the team.
“Julie is the only player on our team who is seasoned,” Lovelace said. “She’s professionally trained and she’s the building block of our program, Rancho is really lucky to have her.”
As mentioned previously, Phan is the only player on the Cougars who is professionally trained. She started playing tennis when she was seven years old and has gone through her fair share of coaches. This coaching allows Phan to compete against the best players in the area. “When I was little, like 7 or 8, my dad signed me up for a tennis camp in Rohnert Park, so I started in M section,” Phan said. “I played with a coach named Harvey for a couple of years and then I moved on with Jose, who I think coaches the men’s tennis team at Sonoma State, and now I’m with Tony.”
Though Phan has been lucky to have training throughout her life, she still puts the work in. Besides her hard work and determination, she does something called self-punishment.
“What I like to do is if there’s a part of my game that’s off like my serves or volleys or ground strokes, on the weekend I would come out to the tennis courts with a basket of balls and hit that stroke to feel confident in myself,” Phan says.
Phan’s self-punishment is very similar to the hard work her teammates had to put in at the start of the season. Phan echoed Coach Lovelace’s assessment of the team. The Cougars, unlike other tennis teams, have to start from scratch every season because most of the girls are new to the game. Phan has been really impressed with how much her teammates have improved throughout the season.
Phan has served as a mentor to the girls on the team because of her experience and knowledge of the game.
While talking with Phan about the different girls on the team, it’s clear the athletes from other backgrounds like softball and lacrosse have an advantage because, according to Phan, they can hit shots most other girls can’t.
“Some of the girls on the team played softball, which is really helpful because there’s some strokes they can hit, that we have no idea how to,” Phan said. “Their shots are really unique and aren’t evolved from tennis.”
Having girls from different backgrounds can be a huge advantage if the girls buy in and work hard. Rancho Cotate athletes are known for hard work and perseverance, so it’s no surprise to see how the program is doing.