If Oakdale High varsity girls tennis coach Judy Vejar had a Facebook page, her first status update would likely proclaim the team’s quest for a Valley Oak League title in 2012.
Vejar, though admittedly shy of cell phones and computers, is plenty outgoing when it comes to discussing the potential for her deep and talented tennis program.
Who needs a smart phone when you have a smart team?
“As a whole, I think we have a good chance to win league,” Vejar said on Sunday. “We have a group of bright girls who are real athletic and won’t give up.
“I’m hitting the jackpot for girls with athleticism and talent.”
Oakdale was unbeaten for seven straight matches to open conference play last year, but devastating injuries to the starting lineup battered the team during a 3-4 stanza to close out league play. The Mustangs finished third to hobble into the playoffs, but were edged by host Central Catholic in the first round.
With six key players back from Oakdale’s starting lineup and another nine expected to make serious contributions for the first time, the Lady Mustangs have no plans of a late letdown this year. They opened the conference with reigning champs, Weston Ranch, on Tuesday, though results were not available at press time. Vejar’s excitement before the match was palpable.
“I’ve been ready for league for two weeks and at the end of this year I will be ready for next year,” Vejar said. “We have no real strong girl, but we have a group of girls with great attitudes and we are very deep.”
The sentiment is shared by senior standout Katie Odom, a longtime soccer star who picked up a racket her freshman year to stay active in the fall and fell in love with the program. She’s the No. 2 singles player behind junior Kalkidan Curtis and perhaps the most physically gifted player on an extraordinarily athletic lineup of players. Odom said she isn’t taking her responsibilities as a returning senior lightly.
“I feel like I have to set an example for the younger girls,” Odom said. “I am a senior and I want to leave my mark by doing big things this year.”
Odom lost just two matches with teammate Laurie Baxter (graduated) during action on Oakdale’s No. 1 doubles team last year. She helped best Central Catholic’s top doubles tandem in the postseason. An ankle injury slowed her progression last year, but a healthy and happy Odom should prove tough to defeat on the singles court.
“I love being a part of the tennis program,” Odom said. “Every year we are a big family and even though you play as individuals we are all one big team.”
Curtis won key singles matches as sophomore in 2011 and has stepped into the limelight this year to battle the VOL’s top individuals. Francesca Orvis, a savvy basketball and softball player, has emerged as Oakdale’s No. 3 singles player a year after she and Nicole Dickens (now the No. 4 singles) went unbeaten in league and playoffs (15-0) on Oakdale’s doubles court.
Christine Winders (junior) didn’t lose in her few reserve appearances in 2011, and will stay active in her role as Oakdale’s No.5 singles. The No. 6 is likely to fall to Taylor Davis, who enjoyed a successful year with Carly Rogers (graduated) during doubles in 2012.
Oakdale’s doubles tandems are led by the No. 1 junior duo of Taylor Kelley and Alyssa Perigen. Melissa Van Dyke (senior) and Rochelle Pabalan (sophomore) expect to slide into the No. 2 spot while senior Madison Lane (the student member of the Oakdale Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees) will lead the No. 3 doubles team with Alyssa Flores (senior).
Oakdale’s depth figures to include the skills of Amanda Monschein (senior) and juniors Sabrina Richardson and Jessica Stevenson. It’s a tough roster that should compete for wins across the lineup during each conference contest.
“This year we have 15 good players and 15 more girls to teach to play for next year,” coach Vejar said. “How lucky am I?”