For three years, Leilani Figalan walked by the College of the Canyons tennis courts every single day, never hearing a sound.
But one day in August, she heard the “thwack” of a tennis racket. And then the “plunk” of a ball.
“And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, they have classes of tennis here? I’ve got to check it out,’” she said. “I opened the gate … I said, ‘Is this a class?’ They said, ‘It’s a team. Come join.’ I hadn’t played in 20 years. They said, ‘It doesn’t matter’.”
And so Figalan became one of 12 teammates on the Cougars’ first-ever women’s tennis team.
The team is coached by Patty LaBat, who has experience coaching at the high school level and has also been teaching private sessions for the last 30 years.
She was originally selected as an assistant coach who would primarily handle recruiting. But when the original head coach wasn’t able to fully assume her role because of a knee replacement in mid-December, LaBat was promoted.
“You can tell that people are interested because I get phone calls and I get texts and stuff,” LaBat said. “They’ll start next year and I’ve recruited a couple kids for next year already. It’s exciting.”
Figalan and a handful of other players have prep tennis experience – there are players from Hart, West Ranch and Quartz Hill, to name a few. Some have more experience, some have less.
“I enjoy the college age a lot because they have so much going on in their background,” LaBat said. “And they’re all from different walks of life and from the Antelope Valley and from here and from LA and it’s just, it’s fun to bring them all together and they really created a nice team.”
For Figalan and another teammate over the age of 50, it’s the chance to reconnect with a sport that they stopped playing, but never stopped loving.
“I feel on fire,” she said. “…My first year or two here I was nervous. It had been years since I’d been back to school, and this makes me feel young again. So I feel fantastic and I can’t wait to win our first match.”
The Cougars practice two hours a day, five days a week at COC and have to maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA. LaBat is already seeking players for next season that can meet those requirements.
“Two years of growing and just maturing would be a benefit to a lot of tennis players,” said the coach. “Maybe they’re not ready to move out. Maybe they want to stay here and hone their skills. That is a big pushing point that yes, we do have all the colleges coming to the tournaments to recruit.”
Canyons has its first match of the season today at 2 p.m. against Orange Coast at COC and will compete through April in Western State Conference play.