With her longtime doubles partner and close friend graduated, Coconino High School’s Faith Daab finds herself in a new role in her senior season.
Daab still holds down the No. 1 singles spot, posting the Panthers’ lone victory on Friday against the consistently dominant Cactus Shadows Falcons, but now finds herself trying to mentor a player she recognizes from her past.
Freshman Emma Walker now joins Daab as part of Coconino’s top doubles pairing and generally on the singles court alongside the senior, playing at No. 2.
“She has expressed to me that she doesn't want to disappoint me and I want to cry when she says that,” Daab said of Walker. “I don’t care about winning, I just want her to play her best and have fun. That's why she reminds me of myself. She puts a lot of pressure on her play and she doesn't want to let her team down, but she doesn't have to feel that way.”
Coconino's Faith Daab returns a ball during Friday's match against the Cactus Shadows Falcons.
Walker started her varsity career a perfect 4-0, with wins in doubles and singles against Desert Edge and Combs, before falling in singles and doubles to Cactus Shadows as part of Friday’s 8-1 loss.
The Falcons, the No. 5 seed in last year’s Division II tournament, ended the Panthers season in the 2017 playoffs and returned all three of their individuals who advanced in the D-II state singles and doubles tournaments.
Challenges like Friday's, in addition to upcoming matches against D-II playoff teams Seton Catholic and Notre Dame Prep, bring Daab into a more motivating role. While she and former Panther Kailey Baker spent the past few years mostly guaranteeing Coconino two or three wins per match, the duo also worked to bring along the younger roster.
Playing behind Daab and Walker, sophomores Olivia Larson and Taylor Rhoton, and junior Connor Garrod return with varsity experience after going 12-3 and winning the city title as a team last year.
Coconino's Taylor Rhoton backhands a ball during Friday's match against the Cactus Shadows Falcons.
“The attitude has changed drastically, we are just going to do our best out there,” Daab said, with Coconino also bringing in a new head coach, Kelly Lasley, this year. “We are a lot more confident in our skills and talent. I knew a lot of the girls played during the summer -- which is something that hasn’t happened a lot.”
Daab handed Cactus Shadows’ Danielle Quenzler a 6-1, 6-1 loss at No. 1, while she and Walker dropped their doubles match 8-4 after nearly tying the match at 5-5. Jessi Kotowski, who reached the D-II doubles quarterfinals with a different partner last season, teamed with Quenzler and then won 6-0, 6-2 at No. 2 singles.
Playing in one of the toughest sections of D-II, with four playoff teams, three state doubles quarterfinalists and two state singles quarterfinalists, Daab knows Walker is in for a test at the top of the lineup in her first varsity season.
“That's definitely taught me to be a leader and that's really helped me with pairing up with Emma as a freshman. It is hard ... being at the top of varsity, it’s a lot of pressure,” said Daab, who did the same in her first season with the Panthers. “She reminds me of myself, just putting a lot of pressure on herself, but you just have to play your best.”
Friday’s results also included an 8-4 loss for Larson and Garrod at the No. 2 doubles spot, with Thoton and Malia Glass falling 8-0 at No. 3. Larson and Glass fell 6-0, 6-0 at No. 3 and No. 6 respectfully, while Garrod went 6-1, 6-0 at No. 4 and Rhoton finished 6-0, 6-2 at No. 5.
Coconino's Olivia Larson sets to hit a ball during Friday's match against the Cactus Shadows Falcons.
The Panthers (2-1) will have a busy week before reaching spring break, with four matches in a five-day span. After hosting Estrella Foothills Monday, Coconino travels to Deer Valley on Wednesday. The week ends with the Panthers’ toughest two-day stretch of the season, hosting Notre Dame Prep Thursday and traveling to Seton Catholic Friday.
Coconino edged Estrella Foothills and Deer Valley 5-4 last season and added a 7-2 victory over Seton Catholic. The Panthers’ lone 9-0 loss came against Notre Dame, which has not lost a regular-season match since 2015.