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For the 2019 Orcutt Academy girls tennis team, there have been two partings that have been all sweetness and no sorrow.

The Spartans have departed from the CIF Central Section's Division 1, veteran coach Art Lopez said, and from the Mountain League. They will not miss either one.

"We finished at the bottom of the Mountain League," said Lopez as his squad, along with Orcutt Academy's other fall teams, were preparing for the upcoming campaign.

"There was no way could compete with teams like Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo." Those teams characteristically finish 1-2 in the league standings, and they did so again last year.

In fact, Arroyo Grande was Orcutt Academy's first-round Division 1 playoff opponent. The Eagles breezed past the Spartans en route to the finals, where they eventually lost.

Any Central Section squad in a team sport that does not win a league championship can petition to get into the playoffs via an at-large berth.

Now, "We're in the Ocean League and that should be much better for us," said Lopez. The Ocean League is comprised primarily of smaller schools.

As for the division the Spartans will compete in, "We're either in Division 2 or Division 3," said Lopez.

The lower division and lower league the Spartans will be in are not the only reasons Lopez is optimistic about the upcoming season.

"We have a really good core of players coming back," including senior Kayla Pablo, Orcutt's top singles player, Lopez said.

The Spartans' other returning varsity regulars are juniors Isabelle Lopez, Art's daughter, Melani Amarsekara and Korrina Bender.

"They all played in almost every match last year," Art Lopez said.

Junior Shivani Panchal and sophomore Genevieve Greco also return. Orcutt's coach said both have some varsity experience.

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The returners are primarily singles players, though Bender played mainly doubles last year, and Art Lopez said his daughter can play doubles as well. "None of our doubles combinations are set yet," Orcutt's coach said at press time.

Last year was the first for the Spartans in the Central Section. Thus it was the first their players played the section format which calls for a best-of-three singles format instead of the three one-set round robin singles matches the Southern Section format consists of.

"I like the Central Section format better because, playing a best-of-three, you can get into a rhythm against the player you're playing against," said Isabel Lopez.

"You can get more used to their style of playing so you know what to expect."

Bender said, "I liked the Central Section format OK, but I didn't like that singles players would have to come right back and play doubles."

In the Central Section format, coaches have the option of having their players play both singles and doubles. According to Southern Section guidelines, players can play either singles or doubles, not both.

Bender said that the Spartans had more standout players last year than they do this year but, "We have more depth this year."

Amarsekara said she benefited from the tennis work she did this summer.

"I was able to take some private lessons from a coach at one of the other high schools and I really got a good look at what I needed to work on," she said.

"All parts of my game improved. My serve is definitely what improved the most."

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Sports Reporter

Kenny Cress, sportswriter for the Santa Maria Times since September of 2000. BA in political science from Cal Poly Pomona. BA in journalism from Cal State Northridge.