APTOS — It turns out the regular season was just a preview of what was to come.
A week after winning the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League team title with a perfect 12-0 record for the second straight season, the Aptos High Mariners continued their domination of the league on Thursday afternoon by producing a singles and doubles champion at the Seascape Sports Club.
Sophomore Mia Totah rolled to a 6-0, 6-0 win over St. Francis High junior Gabi Gutierrez to claim the singles title for the second consecutive year, while twin sisters Lila and Rebecca Sampson, also sophomores, matched her output en route to a repeat title in the doubles, topping St. Francis’ duo of Katherine Casper and Maya Talavera, 6-0, 6-0.
Both matches lasted less than 40 minutes.
“I just focused on one point at a time,” said Totah, who went undefeated this season and also won her first two matches of the tournament in 6-0, 6-0 sweeps. “I just wanted to play pretty aggressive. I went for too much on some points but they were the shots I wanted to hit.”
Save an unforced error here and there, Totah played a perfect match and lived up to her billing as the No. 1 seed in the tournament and No. 46 ranking in USTA’s NorCal 16s.
Gutierrez competed most of the season as the Sharks’ No. 2 but was dropped into the singles tournament after Casper, their usual No. 1, decided to team up with Talavera in doubles.
Casper and Talavera met possibly an even tougher matchup in the Sampson sisters, who were playing doubles for the first time since last year’s Central Coast Section tournament.
The switch back to doubles was like riding a bike for Lila. For Rebecca, it took a few points to shake off the rust but after squeaking by Phoebe Codiga and Julia Dyc-O’Neal in the first round of the tournament with a 6-3, 6-3 victory both were on the same page.
“That was a tough match,” Lila said.
Added Rebecca: “It was good for us.”
All three Mariners will have a chance to improve on their finish at last year’s CCS individual tournament on Nov. 14 at Bay Club Courtside in Los Gatos.
Totah lost in the first round to the No. 3 seed, while the Sampsons stunned the doubles field by advancing to the semifinal round, becoming the first singles player or doubles team from the county to do so in at least 30 years.
Before that, however, the trio will join the rest of the Mariners in Monday’s CCS team tournament.
“Getting another chance at CCS is going to be fun,” Totah said.
Gutierrez, Casper and Talavera were all simply happy to be a part of their respective final and ecstatic to have extended head coach Gay Finch’s final season of her three-decade coaching career by one day.
“She really means a lot,” said Casper, whose two older sisters played for Finch over the last six seasons. “She’s a really good coach. She helps all the players out. It’s really sad to see her go. It’s going to be different without her next year.”
Gay coached 23 years at Aptos, where she led the Mariners to 16 league titles and was named a Central Coast Section honor coach in 1996. Her husband Bill joined her when she took over the St. Francis program nine years ago. The coaching couple helped the Sharks win a pair of league championships and the program’s first and only CCS team victory.
A University of Michigan alumna and Grosse Pointe, Michigan native, Finch moved to Santa Cruz County in 1985 and started coaching soon after. Struggling to compete with the late Dennis Mullen, the legendary Santa Cruz High head coach who had a near monopoly on the county’s tennis landscape for decades, Finch finally caught her first big break when Aptos asked her to be the head coach in 1986.
She said the kids have kept her going over the years but explained that it was time to call it a career.
“It’s very rewarding seeing the girls grow,” said Finch, holding back tears. “Their spirit. Seeing them develop. It’s special. Seeing them come back when they’re done and they say, ‘I still love tennis.’ That’s kind of cool. They come back with their families. It makes me feel really old because some of them have kids now. It’s been fun.”