By Michael Bower
It wasn’t long ago when reaching the San Diego Section Division I semifinals was a yearly occurrence for the Poway High girls tennis program.
The Titans got there in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010. Of course, powerhouse Torrey Pines was there to eliminate Poway in three of those meetings and Rancho Bernardo took care of the Titans in the semifinals in 2010.
But still, Poway was always in the mix when the playoffs rolled around. Then, in 2011, the program had one of its toughest seasons in school history. The Titans finished with a 5-19 record and lost in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
“That was my worst season in my whole coaching career,” said Poway girls tennis coach Evi Yarnell-Valles, who is in her 35th season. “That was a hard year.”
The darkest days did not last long, as a glimmer of light appeared with an 11-win 2012 season. While the Titans still only finished with three Palomar League victories and fell in the quarterfinals of the playoffs, Yarnell-Valles could sense the program was back on the rise.
She was right.
Here we are midway through the 2013 season and Poway already has 11 victories, including four in Palomar League play. The Titans beat Rancho Bernardo 10-8 last week for the first time since 2010. It was the first time any of the Poway players, except senior Giulianna Crivello, beat the Broncos.
“This is not my very best start I have ever had, but it is right up there,” Yarnell-Valles said. “To be halfway through league play and only have one loss is pretty good.”
A huge reason for the emergence of the Titans is freshman sensation Frances Cornwall. She entered this week with an 11-4 singles record and has helped solidify Poway’s lineup.
“She is a hard hitter, but also a smart player,” Yarnell-Valles said. “She mixes things up and works really hard at her game. I know she takes private lessons from Lee Merry, who I consider one of the best coaches in San Diego. He coached (Jana McCord) from Rancho Bernardo and she won the singles title a few years ago.”
Cornwall combined with No. 1 singles player Savanah Goode has given the Titans an impressive one-two punch. Goode, a junior, has had to carry the bulk of the load for Poway before Cornwall’s arrival. The duo often push each other at practice.
“On any given day, Frances or Savanah could be the top player for us,” Yarnell-Valles said. “There might be a day that Frances is off, but Savanah will have a great day. And Frances might wear down a No. 1 so that when Savanah gets her she is tired. They have been great.”
And the Titans feature plenty of depth at the doubles positions. Crivello and junior Charity Monroe have been strong as have Michaela Nestor and Katie Schlegel.
Poway has shown it can compete with just about anybody, except powerhouse Torrey Pines. The Falcons, winners of 21 straight section championships, beat Poway 12-6 in the first meeting.
But if the Titans can continue to play at a high level and avoid Torrey Pines as long as possible in the playoffs, a trip to the finals is not out of the question. Yarnell-Valles knows there is a possibility, but is not ready to count anybody else out.
“La Costa Canyon is good and they are not in our league so I do not know what would happen there,” she said. “And Rancho Bernardo will be stronger the next time around ... and you just do not know what will happen the second time through the league. Everybody is going to change.”
From two years ago, the Titans sure have.