CASA GRANDE — The COVID-19 pandemic has affected high school sports teams in myriad ways. The Casa Grande Union girls tennis team has navigated the landscape remarkably well, but Vista Grande has fought an uphill battle.
The two schools played a team match Wednesday at CG Union, which the Cougars won 7-2.
The win improved the season record for CG Union to 8-3, but despite the good record, the Cougars are just No. 26 in the Division II power rankings. Vista Grande (1-8) is near the bottom of the rankings.
On Wednesday, the Cougars swept all three doubles matches from the Spartans and went 4-2 in singles. Vista Grande picked up wins at No. 1 singles and No. 4 singles.
In the No. 1 singles match, senior Bridgette Piper defeated Clara Munguia 6-4, 6-1. Vista Grande freshman Stefanie Trantham beat Hailey Mace 6-4, 4-6, 10-4 in the No. 4 singles match.
It was the fourth straight team win for CG Union, and its only losses have come to No. 16 Chandler Seton Catholic, No. 7 Phoenix Arcadia and No. 9 Gilbert Higley.
Cougars coach Denise Echeverria said the team success has largely been due to added commitment from her players.
“The girls are also playing and practicing (by hitting) against walls and everything on their own,” she said. “It’s not just coming out to practice like we have (in the past) ... they also set up times on their own to come out and play.”
There’s also a good amount of experience on CG Union, as five of the top six players are juniors and seniors. Mace, a sophomore, is the lone underclassman.
Munguia and No. 2 player Sorraya Wright are juniors, No. 3 Merlin D’Souza and No. 5 Raenelle Allado are seniors, and No. 6 Jade Giuffre is a junior.
Most of them participated in Echeverria’s offseason program and have continued to work on their games even during a difficult time with the pandemic.
“They’ve all risen to the occasion,” Echeverria said.
In Wednesday’s singles matches against Vista Grande, Wright defeated junior Emily Shedd 6-0, 6-4; D’Souza was a 6-1, 6-0 winner over junior Mia Mooring; Allado posted a 6-1, 6-0 win over sophomore Lea Mejia; and Giuffre defeated junior Justyce Martinez 6-1, 6-1.
The No. 1 doubles pairing of Wright and D’Souza won 8-5 over Piper and Shedd; the No. 2 duo of Munguia and Allado won 8-5 over Trantham and Mooring; and the No. 3 group of Mace and Giuffre blanked Mejia and Martinez 8-0.
The season has included many challenges for Vista Grande, as Spartans coach Ryan Barrett said he lost his No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 players before the season due to pandemic-related opt-outs or other circumstances.
Barrett, who also coaches girls basketball at Vista Grande, said this season has been more about survival for the Spartans.
“This year my goal was just to keep the program going,” he said. “So I reached out to some of my basketball girls, and two of them are here playing today (against CG Union).”
Those two girls from the basketball team are Shedd and Trantham. Shedd had never played tennis before the season, and despite that, her natural athletic gifts have led her to a 5-2 record in singles matches. She started the season at No. 5 singles and played two matches there before Barrett moved her up to the No. 2 spot.
But Vista Grande has had to forfeit several singles and doubles matches throughout the season because they only had five girls arrive to play on certain days.
“My goals are really just for them to try their best and have fun this year,” Barrett said. “I wanted them to come out, have a good time and try and learn as much as possible and hopefully get them to come back for next year.”
Even though CG Union has had a successful regular season, state qualifying will be difficult. There are 32 spots each for singles and doubles qualifiers. Coaches submit nominations online for their players, and a committee determines who makes the state tournament.
For the Cougars, the best singles records belong to Allado (10-1 overall) and Giuffre (9-2). Mace and Giuffre each have 9-2 overall records in doubles, including an 8-2 record as partners in No. 3 doubles.
“It’s going to be the schools you’ve beaten because we had to submit what were their best games,” Echeverria said of the state qualifying process.
She’s hoping to get at least one player to the Division II state tournament, which begins individual play April 30 at Phoenix Tennis Center. Only the top 16 teams qualify for the team state competition.