For the past four years, the Channel League girls’ tennis title has belonged to one team: San Marcos High School.
Led by a slew of fantastic athletes over the past four years, such as Yuka Perera, Maura Mannix, Kelly Coulson and more, the Royals have beaten up on the rest of its league, including Santa Barbara, who had not won against San Marcos since 2014.
This season, San Marcos was again off to a quick start in Channel League play with two dominating wins to start the year as it eyed another unbeaten conference season.
That is, until Tuesday when, led by sophomore Heidi Hatton, the Dons stormed the Royals home court and handed them their first league loss, 10-8, in the last 12 matches.
Last season, San Marcos beat Santa Barbara by a combined score of 29-7 in the two matches.
“This feels really good. I did not get to play them in singles last year so I knew they were tough and Fiona (Kinsella), their senior, is a really good player so I knew she would be a tough match,” Hatton said.
Hatton’s contest against Kinsella was definitely the match of the day.
Kinsella, San Marcos’s number one singles player, had lost just four games over four set wins she has totaled in the two league matches alone.
In her first match of the day, she beat Santa Barbara’s Ashley Bird 6-3 while Hatton blanked her opponent, Stella Crawford, 6-0.
With the match tied at 3-3 apiece, Hatton/Kinsella’s outcome would have a definite effect on the final score.
Kinsella got the upper hand early, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. Then, Hatton changed her style of play.
“When I lost those early games, I was too focused on playing her game, and not playing mine. I have my own game that I have worked on my whole life so I hit my shots, not just hit her shots back,” Hatton said.
Attacking Kinsella more, especially with shots down the line making her run more, Hatton won three of the next four games to be down 4-3.
Hatton then broke Kinsella and held serve to be in the driver’s position.
Up 5-4, Hatton stuck to her style of play and took the set win, 6-4.
“In the beginning, I was winning the head game, I was up 3-0, and then she really came in more, put balls away and became more confident. I just have to work harder for the next time I have a rematch against Heidi because I’ll be ready,” Kinsella said.
With Hatton’s win, along with Sophia Ostovany’s win at No. 1 singles and a pair of doubles wins at courts 1 and 3, Santa Barbara held a 7-5 advantage.
In the final round, Hatton would face the Royals’ top freshman prospect, Natasha Gill.
Gill, who had already beaten Ostovany and Bird, 6-2, was coming in hot. With a quick and powerful serve, Gill usually got the upper hand against her opponents.
She did the same against Hatton jumping out to a 1-0 lead. But then, Gill’s serve was faltering a little bit with some faults. Then, whenever she did get something in play, Hatton started crushing it and winning every long rally, eventually leading to a 6-1 win.
This is the second straight match Hatton, the reigning Santa Barbara Athletic Table’s Player of the Week, earned a 3-0 mark in singles.
“I feel really good. Something clicked last week where my serve clicked and my forehand and backhand clicked. I don’t know how to explain it but I am playing my game the way I envisioned it and it makes me happy,” Hatton said.
Hatton’s win put Santa Barbara up 8-5, and, if San Marcos wanted to win, it would need to take all remaining matches on court since the Dons held a big advantage in total games won.
First, Kinsella bounced back with a win over Ostavany to finish the day 2-1 in singles.
“I knew I had to forget about that loss and think of the new match. Rally and take everything point by point was all that was in my mind,” Kinsella said.
Then, a win by Crawford, her only of the day, and by No. 3 doubles duo Samantha Forster/Bella Munoz, who finished 3-0, tied the match at 8-8.
The two remaining matches were long battles as one went into a tiebreak and one had San Marcos leading 5-4.
Down 5-4, however, No. 2 doubles Natalie Brewer/Koko Kelly fought back and took the final three games to win their set.
Then, just a couple of minutes later, No. 3 doubles duo Katie Clyne and Margo Omdahl earned a tiebreak win to give Santa Barbara the outright win, 10-8.
Improving to 3-0 in Channel League, Santa Barbara appears to be the team to beat this year. After years of it being San Marcos, however, Kinsella is not so quick to give that up.
“This (loss) will only make us stronger now. We know we need to push harder in practices and matches and we can’t wait to take them on again at their home,” Kinsella said.
“Playing No. 1 singles and being a senior I get pressure from my coach and myself and that has been difficult but I take it match by match because I know we could win this league.”
Santa Barbara hosts Cabrillo while San Marcos travels to face Dos Pueblos with both matches taking place on Thursday at 3 p.m.