In just its second season of existence, the College of the Canyons women’s tennis program is firmly in the hunt for a Western State Conference (WSC) championship.
The Lady Cougars have won five straight conference matches, the latest coming in the form of a 6-3 result over Ventura College on Tuesday.
COC’s No. 1 singles player freshman Una Stanisavlievic remained undefeated in conference play with her win (6-4, 6-0). No. 2 Marisa Wambolt (6-0, 6-3), No. 3 Nicole Villarta (7-5, 6-3) and No. 5 Seleste Sakato (6-2, 6-2) all won their singles matches to open up an early lead over the Pirates.
The doubles pairings of Stanisavljevic/Sakato (8-3) and Villarta/Wambolt (8-3) also claimed victories for COC.
Canyons (8-3, 8-1), which holds the longest active win streak in the conference, has already beaten three-time defending conference champion Glendale College this season. COC now heads into Thursday’s home match vs. Santa Barbara City College (11-2, 9-0) with a chance to move into a tie for the conference top spot.
But the Cougars will certainly have their work cut out for them.
“We are so close to being contenders for the conference title, but we aren’t there yet,” said COC head coach Patty LaBat who was brought in to launch the college’s women’s tennis program in spring 2018. “A win over Santa Barbara would be huge for our program.”
The Vaqueros haven’t won the conference crown since 2001 but remain one of the WSC’s top programs, having finished as runner-up six times since 2010, including last season when SBCC advanced to the Southern California Regional.
When the two teams met earlier this season the Cougars, a younger roster of players most of whom playing in just their sixth collegiate event, fell 8-1.
“(SBCC) has six players that could all play as top three,” said LaBat. “We still need a bit more depth but our team is confident and getting better with each match.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, the Cougars’ success so far has totally exceeded all expectations for a program that finished 2018 with a 4-12 record and returned just one player from its inaugural season in Wambolt.
“We’ve had to overcome some adversity,” said LaBat about the need to recruit an almost entirely new roster of players, with some joining the team late in the fall just a few months before tennis season got underway. “The players we brought in are dedicated and a very hard working group.”
Stanisavlievic, a graduate of West Ranch High School, has had perhaps the biggest impact on the team’s early-season success. An accomplished player for the Wildcats, Labat points to the freshman’s work ethic and soft-spoken leadership style as the keys to her current undefeated streak. “She may have a chance to be the player of the year for our conference,” said LaBat.
Villarta, who was another late addition to the roster, is also playing a key role for COC. The Valencia graduate has posted an 8-3 mark in singles action despite not playing tennis competitively in high school. “She was a swimmer in high school, but she just has a natural ability,” Labat said about the five-foot-eight-inch freshman. “It’s exciting to see the improvements she has made.”
Canyons has rounded it out its roster with freshman Celeste Hernandez who has gone an even 5-5 in singles matches, first-year player Calista Lian from Taipei, Taiwain and veteran Seleste Sakato, who at 65 years of age has gone 5-1 in singles play, and is also a regular contributor in the doubles game.
“Seleste is not only a very solid tennis player but her ability to share her perspective of growing up in an era when women didn’t have the opportunity to play competitive sports in an academic setting has been fantastic,” said LaBat.
After Thursday, COC will have four more matches before the WSC Championships get underway April 5-6 in Ventura.
“I’m having a lot of fun with this team,” said LaBat, “I couldn’t ask for a more dedicated group of girls. Being able to compete for first place as a second-year program is exciting and we are so looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish this year, and in the years to come.”
Cougars Softball Starts Key Stretch
COC made quick work of conference foe L.A. Mission College on Tuesday, riding a 13-run second inning to a decisive 18-5 home win.
The victory was important in that it both came against a conference opponent and might have revved up the confidence of a Canyons squad that was out of action for nine days in early March due to a series of rain, and snow, outs.
Following a 6-5 win at L.A. Valley on Feb. 28, the team didn’t play again until splitting a road doubleheader at Cerritos College last Saturday.
Nevertheless, Tuesday’s lopsided win saw COC score a season-high 18 runs and marked the fifth time the Cougs have reached double-digit run totals. It was also the fourth win in the last five games for head coach John Wissmath.
COC sophomores Micayla Aguilar and Valerie Rivas both had three-hit days for the Cougars. Rivas also tied with teammate Kaitylyn Post for a game-high four RBIs.
Rivas’ two-run single in the first inning evened the contest at 4-4 after L.A. Mission had opened up a surprising 4-0 advantage to start the afternoon.
In the big second inning it was Aguilar who sparked the rally with a bases loaded single that plated the first run of the outburst, and set up Post for another two-run double. Post finished the game 2-for-3 with two runs, a walk and four RBIs.
But it’s the upcoming stretch that will be especially crucial for Canyons.
Beginning with Thursday’s conference road matchup with No. 10 regionally ranked Antelope Valley College, the Cougars will play a combined 11 games over the next 10 days. The byproduct of all those weather-related postponements earlier in the month.
Included are four combined matchups with No. 2 state-ranked Cypress and No. 10 El Camino College. The first two will come in a home triple-header at Whitten Field on Sunday, with the three teams slated to play each other. The series then shifts to El Camino for the same format on March 23.
COC will also play a road doubleheader at No. 5 regionally ranked Santiago Canyon College on Saturday.
Canyons Golf Wins Third Straight Tourney
COC turned in a five-player score of 387 to hold off place Santa Barbara City College by a two-stroke margin during the Western State Conference (WSC) event played at Santa Maria Country Club on Monday.
The two programs started the event tied for the conference top spot with identical 29-3 records. By winning the event COC improved to 37-3 with the Vaqueros in second place at 36-4.
COC freshmen Nobuhiko Wakaari and Jack Greene both shot rounds of 74 to tie for second place in the individual standings. Tom Sims (78), Jules Lavigne (80) and Anguerrand Voisin (81) also scored for the Cougars.
Canyons next competes at WSC Antelope Valley on Monday. That event will begin at 10 a.m. at Antelope Valley Country Club.