It was rough but educational start to the varsity girls tennis season Thursday for Righetti High. The Warriors lost the season opener 16-2 to a strong Cabrillo High squad, which figures to challenge for the Los Padres League title.
Righetti has a new head coach, Jen Haskell, and a team that leans heavily on sophomores — half the team are members of the 2019 class.
"All the girls are great to work with," Haskell said. "Nobody gave up today. You can't teach that. We teach them what we can and we'll start winning some matches."
Two of the Warriors' top three singles players are sophomores — Lauren Zimmer and Lacey Snyder. Zimmer, won both points for the Warriors in long, scrappy sets that showed her ability to run down shots.
"She was tough," Haskell said. "I didn't know she had that in her. I'm really proud of her."
Zimmer lost 6-4 to Cabrillo's Sierra Hohimer, the Conqs' No. 1 singles player and a junior who could be one of the top players in the area.
The bright spots on the courts for the Warriors were in the flashes of potential and improvement from a team that struggled to win last year. Haskell said, "We have some work to do. They're young and we have time."
And the Warriors have been willing to work. Snyder was a good example Thursday. Primarily a doubles player, she was switched to No. 3 singles the day before the first match of the season.
Haskell said she was proud of how well Snyder responded to the new situation.
There's a lot that is potentially unfamiliar this year for the Warriors tennis players. In addition to Haskell, Kyler Corral, who graduated from Righetti in June and played for the boys tennis team, is a new assistant coach. Michael Roberson, the school's softball coach, also will coach the junior varsity tennis team.
It's a restart for the program. That means building from the foundation up. Haskell said she's focused on "positivity, teamwork, footwork, correct court movement and mental toughness.'
"You can never work too much on the basics, even if you're Serena Williams," she said. "They have to start where we're at and take it from there."
For the Conqs and Hohimer, where they hope to take the season is to be competing with Santa Ynez for the top spot.
"I'm excited," Hohimer said, smiling. "I feel like a lot of us have improved from last year and we all feel comfortable with each other, too.
"We all have a lot of good footwork — that's what we've been working on — and consistency, too."
Cabrillo swept all nine doubles sets Thursday and showed the team's depth in the process. The amount of talent on the team has created competition that head coach Mary Beth Stieber said isn't over just because the season started.
In fact, the competition ladder isn't 100% set, yet, she said. While Hohimer has the No. 1 singles spot locked down and No. 2 player Karley Atkin has a lot of experience from last season, there could still be some movement as the Conqs push themselves to get better.
"Everybody has improved, but I think especially Taylor (Christen) and Karley," Hohimer said. "They've been putting in a lot of work."
Christen is the team's No. 3 singles player.
"Keep doing what we're doing and keep our confidence high," Hohimer said of the team's day-to-day mindset at the start of a long season.