The Nogales High School girls tennis team lost five seniors to graduation after reaching the state semifinals last year. But if those graduations were supposed to mean a step back for the program, this year’s squad didn’t get the message.

With a former No. 6 player taking over the No. 1 spot and junior varsity players moving up to fill the other five varsity positions, the Apaches stormed into the 2019 campaign with a decisive 8-1 victory over Ironwood Ridge on Feb. 26. Aside from a pair of losses to powerhouses Catalina Foothills and Salpointe, they’ve continued their winning ways since then, raising their record to 5-2 with a 9-0 shutout of Walden Grove at home on Tuesday.

“Even though I have practically a new team this year, it’s been really fun,” said head coach Kerri Muñoz. “I’m really anxious to see how we end up.”

NHS junior Diana Garcia, playing in the No. 1 slot, took a tough 6-2, 1-6, 10-7 decision from her Walden Grove opponent on Tuesday. Garcia was the team’s No. 6 player a year ago, and Muñoz said she expects to see her qualify for the 2019 state tournament as a singles player.

Samantta Garcia, the only senior on the squad, has also played in the No. 1 varsity spot this season after being the No. 1 JV player a year ago. Competing in the No. 2 position on Tuesday, she won her singles match 6-2, 6-2.

“She’s kind of stepped up as a captain of the team and the girls look up to her,” Muñoz said.

Another JV graduate, junior Zarina Gonzalez, is holding down the No. 3 position.

“Zarina has probably had the best scores yet,” Muñoz said after Gonzalez won her singles match with Walden Grove, 6-0, 6-0. “She’s very consistent, she has a mean slice, she plays with a lot of spin and she’s super quick – she gets to everything.”

While sophomore Nicolette Fajardo is new to the varsity squad, she and her coach have a long relationship that dates to when Muñoz coached her in middle school.

“Nicolette’s one of those players that never comes off the court. She plays forever and she gives everything she’s got,” Muñoz said of her No. 4 singles player.

Like Gonzalez, Fajardo took her match by a 6-0, 6-0 mark on Tuesday.

Playing at No. 5, Carolina Durazo, whom Muñoz called “a very tenacious player,” cruised to a 6-1, 6-2 singles win in the Walden Grove contest. No. 6 Yanula Rodriguez also won handily, 6-0, 6-0.

“She keeps on improving, every match she improves. She’s been working really hard,” Muñoz said of Rodriguez.

In Tuesday’s doubles matches, Diana Garcia and Gonzalez won 8-4 in the No. 1 position, Samantta Garcia and Fajado took the No. 2 match 8-0, and Rodriguez and Durazo teamed up at No. 3 to win 8-1.

“Coming from JV to varsity, it’s a huge jump,” Muñoz said of her young team. “JV, you wait to play, you play less tennis. Where in varsity, you have to compete. And we compete with these big schools.”

The Apaches’ continuing ability to compete probably has a lot to do with coaching as well. For the past two years, Muñoz has been named the state’s coach of the year in girls Division II tennis.

Nogales, ranked No. 8 among the 66 D-II schools as of Wednesday, was set to play at Tucson High School on Thursday and at Pueblo on Monday. They host Amphitheater at 3:30 p.m. on April 4.

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