In its inaugural year in the CIF Central Section, St. Joseph's girls tennis team tied for third place in the Mountain League then went out in the first round of the 2018 Division 1 playoffs.
With a strong core of returners plus two promising newcomers, senior Emily Wilson and freshman Michahjuliana Lundberg, the Knights think they can stick around a lot longer in the post-season this time around.
"We moved from Division 1 to Division 2, so that will help," said St. Joseph senior Katelynn Haskell. Haskell was St. Joseph's No. 1 singles player last year. She is a four-year varsity player.
"Hopefully this past summer work will help us go as long as we can. We've been working hard every day."
Pepe Villasenor has hit the ground running at St. Joseph.
Besides Haskell, the Knights have second-year coach Trish Gooley's daughter, Shyanne Gooley, a junior was was St. Joseph's No. 2 singles player last year, back. Besides, Trish Gooley believes newcomers Wilson and Lundberg will help.
Shyanne Gooley said, "I believe we are better this year as a team and individually. I think we've bonded very well together."
As for Wilson, 17, "I've been playing tennis since I was nine," she said. "I've played a lot of USTA tournaments, and I played some World Team Tennis at the junior level. That's a new thing that's being tried."
Wilson said she was home schooled until the second semester of her junior year in high school, when she attended St. Joseph.
"It was good," Wilson said of her transition to campus schooling. "The people here are great. I'd known some of the girls on the tennis team from various camps."
Trish Gooley said, "Emily is very strong, just very powerful. She loves tennis and spends a lot of time working on her tennis outside of practice. Those four, Katelynn, Shyanne, Emily and Michahjuliana, all work a lot on their tennis.
"Michahjuliana just stood out during summer workouts. I had seen her play before, at the (Santa Maria Country Club) and I knew she would be a good addition to the team."
Lundberg said that working out with the other St. Joseph varsity members during the summer helped her transition to varsity-level tennis before her high school career began. Besides, she's been a tennis player for awhile.
Football is, by far, the most popular high school sport in California.
But, according to a report released by the CIF, participation in the sport is dropping across the state.
"I've been playing tennis for four years," Lundberg said.
Besides Haskell and Shyanne Gooley, the Knights have several other returners, including seniors Julia Galloway, Janelle Brickey, Gina Rigali, Eva Datuin, Gowri Sunitha and Leah Murphy, and junior Marlee Hernandez.
All of them saw considerable playing time last year, and Trish Gooley believes Bailey Breaux, who played for the junior varsity last year, will bolster the St. Joseph varsity this year.
Galloway and Brickey were a productive St. Joseph doubles team last year, and Trish Gooley said those two will play doubles together again this year.
The Central Section format calls for best-of-three sets singles matches with a flexible doubles format, as opposed to the Southern Section round-robin format of three one-set singles matches and thee one-set doubles matches.
Central Section players can play both singles and doubles. Southern Section players can only play one or the other.
The Central Section format grew in popularity among local players as the 2018 season wore on, and Haskell and Shyanne Gooley said they liked the Central Section format.
"I like the Central Section format better because you can do both singles and doubles," said Haskell. She and Shyanne Gooley played a lot of doubles for the Knights last year.
Besides, "When you're playing a best-of-three singles match, if you struggle early you have time to try to figure out (your opponent's game) and come back," Haskell said.
"If you struggle early in a one-set match, it's usually over."
The Knights will open Aug. 22 with a home match against Mission Prep.