Canyons Women's Tennis Clinches First Conference Championship
By Jesse Muñoz/COC Sports Information Director
College of the Canyons women's tennis etched its mark in the school's history books in dramatic fashion on Tuesday, winning the first Western State Conference (WSC) Championship in the program's young history with an 8-1 home win over visiting Antelope Valley College.
The victory was the 10th consecutive for Canyons (11-2, 10-0) and clinched an outright conference title for the Cougars with two regular season matches remaining.
COC swept its three doubles matches with the teams of Ashley Villarta/Lexi Paunovic, Lauren Hannah/Jennifer Russell, Lauren Neal/Hannah Heiber all teaming for victories to put the Cougars ahead 3-0 at the break.
Canyons went on to win five of its six singles matches to put an exclamation point on the day and officially claim the program's first conference title.
Antelope Valley (3-12, 1-9) was able to get a point in No. 1 singles play.
Canyons No. 2 singles player Lexi Paunovic improved to 9-2 on the season with her straight sets victory. Jennifer Russell is now 10-1 in singles action, primarily playing from the No. 3 spot, and has not lost since the season opener at Orange Coast College.
Lauren Neal, who has provided a steady presence all season, went an extra set to get her victory in the No. 4 spot and is now 8-5 for the year.
"Our strength all season has been that we are consistent from top to bottom," said Canyons head coach Patty LaBat. "We win as a team, and that's what happened today."
COC launched its women's tennis program in 2018 as the college's 17th athletic program. With LaBat at the helm the Cougars played to a 4-12 record its inaugural season. The program took a major leap forward in 2019 with a 9-7 overall record and a third-place finish in the WSC standings.
In 2020, Canyons, featuring a starting lineup made up of all SCV-area student-athletes, was poised to compete for a conference title after storming out to an impressive 9-2 record. However, the Cougars had their season end with back-to-back rain outs and the eventual cancellation of all contests due to the COVID-19 crisis. COC programs did not compete in 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic.
Canyons returned to action in 2022 and seemingly picked up right where it left off with its current 10-match win streak dating back to Feb. 3.
The 2022 roster includes three players — Russell, Hannah and Alexis Mirzayan — who were with the program during the cancelled 2020 campaign, with seven of the team's eight student-athletes coming from SCV area high schools.
"All of the girls worked very hard to come back after the cancellations," said LaBat, "and I'm so pleased that they get to see the results of their hard work in the form of a conference title."
Canyons will have one more match on its home court Thursday, March 17, vs. Bakersfield College. Action is scheduled to get underway at 2 p.m.
The regular season concludes on Tuesday, March 22 at Glendale College. The 2022 CCCAA Women's Tennis SoCal Regional Playoffs are slated to begin in early April.
Full Results from Tuesday's match vs. Antelope Valley are below:
- Villarta/Paunovic (COC) defeats Henderson/Smithley(AVC) — 8-6
- Hannah/Russell (COC) defeats Faulk/Bulsombut (AVC) — 9-7
- Neal/Heiber (COC) defeats Martinez/Garcia (AVC) — 8-0
- Ashley Villarta (COC) loses to Kristi Henderson (AVC) — 6-7, 6-4, 4-10
- Lexi Paunovic (COC) defeats Naia Smithley (AVC) — 6-0, 6-0
- Jennifer Russell (COC) defeats Brooke Faulk (AVC) — 6-1, 6-0
- Lauren Neal (COC) defeats Sabrina Bulsombut (AVC) — 6-4, 6-7, 10-4
- Hannah Heiber (COC) defeats Juliana Martinez (AVC) — 6-0, 6-3
- Lauren Hannah (COC) defeats Gabby Garcia (AVC) — 6-2, 6-0
—Photo by Kyle Kawamoto/COC Sports Information