There’s an array of new challenges this season but so far the Lady Sundevils are doing everything they can to answer the call.
The Española Valley High School girls tennis team returns five out of six players from their singles lineup from last year’s team that qualified for the Class 5A state tournament as the No. 9 seed.
Their season ended in the first round in a 5-4 loss to No. 8 Alamogordo High School in what was a 10-team bracket, used by the New Mexico Activities Association for countless years for the larger classifications.
This season, the NMAA has cut the state field to just two classifications (A-4A, 5A) as opposed to the norm of three. To compensate for the cut, the state team brackets will now be a 12-team layout, with the top four seeds receiving byes in the first round.
“I’m all for it and I think the more teams in the better,” Española head coach Nancy Suazo said. “If there’s 34 teams in 4A and they’re taking twelve, that’s about a third of the teams and I’m all for it. The tough part is if you finish third of fourth in your district, are they going to go that deep because they have to take district champions from each of the other districts and work from there.”
Española has plenty of company from the blue bloods of the sport in their new grouping of District 2-4A. Not only is the district composed of nine total teams — as opposed to five a season ago — but they’re paired with the five-time defending state champions from Robertson High School, St. Michael’s, Santa Fe Prep and Los Alamos High School, who has nine state titles to its name, most recently in 2017.
The good news for the Lady Sundevils? They’ve already notched a dual win over the Lady Hilltoppers, winning 5-3 in the first part of the Taos Tri March 22. After splitting the six singles matches and tying in the first doubles match, Española’s Kaylinn Martinez and Ariana Estrada and Dulce Maldonado and Sophia Sena both took home the final two doubles matches in two sets apiece (6-3, 6-2 / 6-0, 6-3).
“We have the 1-0 edge over Los Alamos, but all we can do is really take it one dual at a time,” Suazo said.
The Lady Sundevils jumped out to a 2-0 district start to the season after a sweep of Taos in part 2of the Taos Tri, but finally met their match in district in a closely-contested 5-4 loss to the Lady Horsemen of St. Michael’s March 29 at the George Gallegos Tennis Courts in Española.
The difference came down to St. Michael’s No. 1 Haley Garcia, who took care of Española’s Kaylinn Martinez in two quick 6-0 sets.
“We are right there,” Suazo said. “We just need to improve by 10 to 15 percent and we can beat a lot of these teams. It's tough to beat these teams that have been perennial powerhouses, but I’m just glad we’re right in the mix competing.”
In the other singles matches, St. Michael’s got victories from Cameron Calbrese (6-4, 6-0 over Izabel Sena), Leah Garcia (6-2, 6-3 over Jaden Archuleta) and Hannah Garcia (6-1, 6-3 over Dulce Maldonado). Española picked up wins from Estrada (6-2, 7-5 over Ciana Malcom) and Sophia Sena (4-6, 6-1, 6-1 over Devon Romero).
Hannah Garcia and Calbrese won 6-3, 6-1 over Izabel Sena and Archuleta in the first doubles match, then Española’s Estrada and Martinez and Sophia Sena and Maldonado won the final two.
The Lady Sundevils rebounded in a big way on March 30 by sweeping Raton 9-0 in Española to improve to 4-4 overall and 3-1 in district play. The Lady Tigers won just eight games combined in the nine matches that were all finished off in two sets.
The Española boys had a much rougher day against St. Michael’s, falling 8-1 to the Horsemen to sit at 3-4 overall and 1-2 in district play.
Saul Salgado scored the lone point for the Sundevils with his 6-4, 1-6, 6-0 win over Aiden French.
“For the boys, we need to improve by a good 20 to 25 percent,” Suazo said. “We played them better last time in Santa Fe, but today just wasn’t our day.”
Española came back strong a day later to defeat Desert Academy 8-1 and will look to improve to 3-1 in district play when they host Santa Fe Prep at 3:30 p.m., Wednesday (4/3) at the George Gallegos Tennis Courts.