Rarely does a tennis uniform carry so much meaning. 

But, amid the coronavirus pandemic, many have learned just how important the little things are.

So, the Santa Maria High girls tennis team was happy just to be in their uniforms Tuesday.

It was a nice afternoon, though it carried the typical Santa Maria breeze. But the Saints were in red and white and playing on the Minami Center courts located in the middle of town, hosting a tennis match.

Saints coach Julianne Dolan said, "Just getting our uniforms together adds some normalcy to their lives."

Dolan's Saints hosted Morro Bay in a season-opening match then. The girls tennis season was originally scheduled to be played last fall, but the Saints will surely take a six-month delay over no season at all.

"We weren't really sure what it was going to look like," Dolan said of the season. "Usually we play in the fall, so COVID has really been affecting things with us. We've been at practice for three weeks, which isn't a ton of time to get ready. It's definitely more about getting kids out and moving -- something other than the kids having a screen in front of them."

Dolan says Samantha Gonzalez is the No. 1 singles player on the team. Other top returners are Jessica Arredondo, Yesenia Lopez, Jenny Aquino and Arely Garcia. The team also features Alma Fernandez, Mia Santana and Noelia Cruz.

"The numbers are lower, but I have a good returning group to varsity," Dolan said, echoing a sentiment from other area coaches that participation numbers are down amid the pandemic. "I have five returning players for varsity and a couple returning for JV.

"We've had enough to flesh out the team, but definitely not the numbers we'd have in a normal season." 

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The players are required to wear their masks during competition and Dolan says they take temperatures before every match and practice. One big issue facing local athletics is transportation. School districts are not transporting athletes currently, meaning parents are left to drop off and pick up athletes from practices and games or matches.

"Transportation is an issue and that limits a lot of what our kids can do," Dolan said. "We can't travel outside of the local area because most of my kids don't have someone that can drive them at that time of day. We're kind of homebound." 

Dolan said the seven programs that make up the Ocean League will be fielding girls tennis teams and the hope is that each team plays twice. She said there will not be league finals this year.

"We may only see teams like Mission Prep or Morro Bay once -- when they come here -- because of our travel issues," Dolan said. "I think the season will be going through April, so that does give us some time if there are any make-up matches we need to get in."

Gonzalez, a senior and the top returner, is just happy to have some competition and a season, no matter what it actually looks like. 

"Having the top spot is good, it's a competitive team," Gonzalez said. "Today felt good to actually be out here and have a match, especially after missing almost all of my senior experience."

Gonzalez admitted that she did have doubts about the possibility of a season, which would've been just another rough blow for the teenager.

"Tennis is one of my hobbies where I can just play and have fun," she said. "I've been playing pretty consistently when we've been able to go outside."

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