A new wave is sweeping through Channel League girls tennis.
Neither Cabrillo High junior Kayla Kling nor San Marcos High freshman Natasha Gill had ever won a league tournament match before this week, but they’ll play for the singles championship on Thursday at the Santa Barbara Tennis Club.
“I’ve heard of it,” Kling said of the club, “but I didn’t make it past the first day last year.”
Gill said she’s just “having a lot of fun” in her first year of high school tennis, “but I like playing on a team more than alone.”
Their championship match on Thursday will start at about 3 p.m., following the 1:45 p.m. doubles semifinals. The doubles tournament will start today at the Dons’ courts on Nopal Street.
Kling has come a long way since losing to Santa Barbara’s Claire Stotts in last year’s first round, improving her game enough to earn the top seed for this week’s event.
“I don’t think I had a seed last year,” she said, “but I’ve worked hard on my power and my tactics. I had a lot of slicing and was very predictable last year.
“I think I’ve just upped my game in all forms, especially my serve.”
Her power and placement overwhelmed San Marcos’ Fiona Kinsella, a senior and the No. 4 seed, by a score of 6-0, 6-1. Kling led 4-0 in the second set before Kinsella held service to win her lone game.
“I played her twice before in school matches, and she’s such a really good person,” Kling said. “I like her, she’s awesome, and I’m actually sad I’m not going to see her next year.
“A lot of people on the circuit are very serious and strict, but I could actually sit down during the changeovers and have conversations with her.”
Tennis has helped Kling make friends even while moving often as the daughter of U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Clair Kling. She transferred to Cabrillo as a sophomore last year.
“I was born in Texas, then moved to South Carolina, England, Louisiana, Kansas, Nebraska, and now here,” she said. “I started playing in Louisiana when I was 9.
“I still talk to my old high school teammates in Nebraska. I see a lot of the same people on the circuit, especially from Nebraska since it’s so tiny. I have a lot of connections from tournaments.”
She’s already beaten Gill twice this season. Gill, however, had also lost twice to Santa Barbara High’s Heidi Hatton before defeating her in Tuesday’s semifinals, 6-4, 5-7, 10-3.
“I’ve learned a lot more how to win, and I’ve changed my game,” Gill said.
She had to overcome a valiant comeback from Hatton — and a wasp that made her pull out in the middle of a point during the second set.
“At least I think it was wasp because it was yellow,” she said. “It came into my ear and was buzzing around.”
Gill came out like a buzz saw, taking a 5-1 lead in the first set. Hatton won the next three points, however, before Gill held serve for the 6-4 win.
The match flipped in the second set: Hatton surged to a 5-2 lead, but Gill rallied before losing, 7-5 — and she kept that momentum going to win the 10-point tiebreaker set, 10-3.
“She was really good at coming to the net, so hitting deep was making it easier for me to keep points long,” Gill said. “Jonny (Sapp, San Marcos’ coach) told me that I should just go for all my shots because I’ll miss all the shots that I don’t take.”
The 10-point tiebreaker set was tied 2-2 before Gill caught fire, winning eight of the last nine points.
“The long match tired us both out, but I’ve been working on my endurance,” Gill said.