Scotts Valley senior Emma Dyc-O’Neal and sophomore Sofia Niklaus were busy this season handling business on the tennis court as two of the top singles players for the girls’ Falcons team.
However, things took a tiny twist when they paired up to compete at the Central Coast Section Girls Tennis Doubles Championships at Bay Club Courtside in Los Gatos on Nov. 15.
Dyc-O’Neal and Niklaus were eliminated in the second round by the No. 3-seeded doubles team of Nadia Lee and Anika Malik of Cupertino High in two sets (6-1, 6-0).
“It was definitely a new experience since we never went out of league [play],” Dyc-O’Neal said. “It was exciting but it was definitely a whole different level of play up there … They were nice but they were just so much better than us.”
The mighty Falcons duo did soar, however, for a first-round win against the unseeded doubles team of Rachel Chen and Amy Tran of Piedmont Hills High in two sets (6-4, 6-3).
Niklaus said it was nice to be able to squeak by in the first round but knew it’d be difficult to advance any further.
Prior to the CCS tourney, Dyc-O’Neal and Niklaus won the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League Doubles Championship at Imperial Courts in Aptos on Nov. 3.
The Falcons duo beat Aptos High’s top-seeded doubles team of Madison Phillips and Jillian Beltran in two sets (6-3, 6-4) for the program’s first league title and CCS appearance since 2015.
Dyc-O’Neal said her and Niklaus are both athletic and versatile with what they could do on the court, especially because they typically play in singles matches.
“We communicated well and we were both pretty positive, so we stayed happy,” Dyc-O’Neal said. “Sofia’s pretty good at the net and she’s tall, so she can get stuff, and I have good ground strokes.”
Dyc-O’Neal was in the No. 1 singles position for the Falcons and Niklaus stayed at the No. 4 spot during the regular season.
Scotts Valley coach Scott Goodrich said both players are great athletes who are also studs on the girls’ lacrosse team.
“Both players are mobile and they have good skills overall,” he said.
Niklaus—who earned All Pacific Coast Athletic League Lacrosse First Team honors—plays tennis for just two months out of the year.
However, she mentioned that having an experienced partner such as Dyc-O’Neal has made her job somewhat easier.
“It’s helpful for me because she knows a lot,” Niklaus said. “She can teach me and it kind of benefits our whole team.”
Going into the season, Goodrich had an idea they’d be a competitive team in the SCCAL because of returning players such as seniors Veronica Farquhar, Olivia Johnston and Dyc-O’Neal.
Farquhar said she wanted to finish the season strong and approach the season in good spirits, really trying to give it their all.
“I’d say we were able to play well because we just get along as a team in general and we’re all looking out for each other, which I believe is really important,” she said.
The Falcons ended the first round of league play undefeated, including a big win against Aptos that gave Scotts Valley momentum in the final stretch of the season.
Johnston believes this year’s group had a better bond with each other and noticed more people were focused whenever it was time to play.
“Showing up to practice on time, just the small things like that I think led us to more success in our previous years,” she said.
The Falcons finished with an 11-2 overall record and were 9-1 in league play, tied with Aptos. Both teams were forced to a one-match playoff to determine a league champion.
Scotts Valley was edged by Aptos, 4-3, in the Oct. 31 winner-take-all match at Soquel High School.
“Everyone worked hard, everyone improved and we had fun each step of the way,” Goodrich said. “We’ll certainly miss our seniors who provided great leadership but looking forward, we’ve got a great group coming back so the future is bright.”
The varsity team was just 13 players deep, which is the lowest turnout in Goodrich’s third year with the program. On average he had up to 17 players in 2020 and ’21, finishing 4-6 and 6-4 in league play, respectively.
They may have had a small drop off but he believes it’s still a nice blend of talent including juniors Samantha Warner and Maya Bensen, sophomore Erin Szymanski and senior Oona Poikonen—an exchange student from Finland who had never picked up a tennis racket before joining the team.
Goodrich also realized they had a strong group of freshmen in Julia Kennedy, Maya Wexler and Riya Kuriakose who were added into the mix, as well.
“Early on in the season I made a note to one of my assistant coaches that this team is very focused and very mature,” Goodrich said.
Stella Chaney, a junior, said she felt the seniors were good leaders this year and really brought the group together.
Not only were the upperclassmen great players but they made it feel like a close bond with everyone, she said.
“It definitely creates a more supportive environment and it’s part of the reason we did so well this season and why it was so fun,” Chaney said.
Farquhar, who was on the team all four years, was always looking forward to seeing familiar faces, as well as new faces.
There was a sense of nostalgia when she was a freshman, walking in and seeing how some things have changed and others stayed the same.
“All of it is just really touching and important to me,” Farquhar said. “Different practices and looking forward to it, and being passionate about it, I think really reflected in all of our playing.”