The Santa Barbara City College tennis team bears depth and talent

Connor Trauger and Connor Trauger

The City College women’s tennis players will start the season with one of the most complete rosters they have had in recent years.

The goal is to capture the top seed in the Western State Conference for the first time since 2001 in order to make a run at a regional title.

The Vaqueros have improved from three wins in 2009, to 10 wins and a second place finish in the conference last spring despite a roster brimming with freshman.

The 2011 campaign will have many of the same faces with a whole new level of experience.

“This is one of those magical years where everything is clicking,” said head coach Debbie Ekola. “We should come out on top in the WSC.”

Each matchup features the top six players of either team facing off in singles, and then teaming up for an eight game doubles “pro-set.”

“We’re extremely capable at the top, middle and bottom of our roster,” said Ekola. “That kind of depth is rare in community college tennis; it gets you wins.”

The Vaqs’ number one ranked player is sophomore transfer Nicci Yvanovich, however, Ekola said her top three girls are equally adept.

“We have a really strong team vibe and we are talented all the way down the line,” said Yvanovich. “Were going to be good.”

Yvanovich, originally from Santa Cruz, played a year of Division I on scholarship for the University of Texas at San Antonio before moving to Santa Barbara.

“Nicci is so talented, but she’s casual,” said Ekola. “She is an amazingly smart player.”

Yvanovich’s doubles partner, Amy Sagraves, said it’s “awesome” having a girl with her experience on the team.

Sagraves was the Vaqs’ top player on last year’s team that only had two losses in the regular season, both to the conference champion Santa Monica.

“Amy is an intense competitor.” said Ekola. “She wants it.”

Sagraves returns to the stacked squad as one of two captains.

“Last year we were good, I mean, we only lost to one team,” said Sagraves. “This season I just don’t see us losing to anyone.”

However, Ekola’s philosophy runs deeper than sheer talent and victories.

“I love the community college level,” said Ekola. “It is not a matter of taking great players and winning but taking great kids and making them into great adults.”

Ekola replaced her mother as head coach in 2009 after being a group fitness instructor for 28 years.

“I want to emphasize conditioning,” said Ekola. “It is a long season and we don’t want to break down towards the end.”

While beating Santa Monica and winning the conference is the team’s initial focus, Ekola maintains that this year’s group is capable of competing for the So-Cal regional title

“The strong shall survive,” Ekola said.

The Vaqueros season officially starts against San Diego Mesa at noon Feb. 3 in San Diego.