The state championship banner hangs atop the chain-link fence that surrounds the tennis courts at Palo Verde High School. Meaning first-year Panthers girls tennis coach Richard Coop sees it every day.
“It’s there,” he said. “The kids know what’s expected of them to play. But it’s not my expectation. It’s their expectation.”
Especially after three consecutive Class 4A state championships.
Palo Verde’s quest for a fourth straight big-school team title starts at 3 p.m. Monday when the Panthers host Arbor View in the first round of Sunset Region play.
The Panthers posted a 13-0 record during the regular season and knocked off previously unbeaten Bishop Gorman on Thursday to clinch the region’s No. 1 seed.
“Defending the championship was one of our major goals,” junior Kaya Richardson said. “There’s a lot of teams out there that want to play against us and want to beat us.”
Palo Verde has won 34 consecutive matches since 2015, and Coop knew when he took the job that this year’s roster had a championship-caliber makeup.
The Panthers have 26 girls — several of whom were key contributors last season — and the depth helped to create a competitive atmosphere that facilitates growth.
Coop said he appreciates the culture that former coach Zach Brandt created, and added that he wanted to build on the school’s success without detracting from its baseline standard of excellence. So he implemented a mentorship program by pairing every upperclassmen with an underclassmen.
The older players worked with the younger players in practice, watched their matches and provided constructive feedback throughout the course of the season.
“The seniors and juniors get that we’re developing (the younger players),” said Coop, who was on Palo Verde’s football coaching staff for several years “If (the underclassmen) have a question … they can go to some of the other players and say, ‘Hey, you were in my shoes, what can I do to get better? How did you get better?’ ”
The effects were palpable, and several players beyond the nine starters played meaningful tennis for Palo Verde, which won 12 of its 13 matches by at least four points.
Junior Shelby Graber said it was a priority for the Panthers to remain focused against “the teams that don’t give us as much competition as much as others.
“It’s something you learn after a while. I’ve done it multiple times … I’m used to it by now,” Graber said. “For these other girls, sometimes it’s hard, but we’re teaching them.”
But now the postseason is here, and Coop and his team are ready to go.
“They’ve got a routine they work though,” Coop said “It’s all about getting the work done.”
Contact reporter Sam Gordon at email@example.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.