It's been smooth sailing for the Nogales girls tennis team this season.
The Apaches are 15-0 and the No. 2 seed in the Division II state playoffs for the second straight year. They open the first round today against Sahuarita.
Nogales is good, but it was pretty good last year, too, and faltered in the second round against Ironwood Ridge. The Nighthawks wound up winning the state championship.
"They had a lot of seasoned players, and they just came in and really surprised us," Nogales coach Kerri Munoz said. "Hopefully that doesn't happen again."
Here are three reasons the Apaches should fare better this year:
1. Star power: Senior Cristina Oropeza has been with the Apaches for four years, and she's the team's star and its captain.
Because of her experience, Munoz - the Apaches' second-year coach - sometimes even finds herself seeking out Oropeza for what needs to be done.
"All the girls look up to Cristina," Munoz said. "I'll even come up and ask her what she thinks I should be working on with these girls. She says we really need to be patient."
On Thursday, Oropeza will sign to play tennis at Division II Metropolitan State University of Denver. Then Friday, she will face Phoenix Arcadia's Kate Byrne in the quarterfinals of the singles state tournament.
2. Familiarity: Today's match won't be the first time Nogales and Sahuarita have crossed paths.
They have met twice this year, with Nogales winning by scores of 6-3 and 7-2.
"Sahuarita's coach and I are like, 'Here we are again,'" Munoz said, with a laugh. "There's gonna be some really nice matches because the girls do compete really well against each other."
3. Revenge: The Apaches wouldn't be facing No. 5 I-Ridge until the championship match. But that doesn't mean Nogales doesn't have a chip on its shoulder because of last year's early exit.
Oropeza made it to the singles quarterfinals, and Nogales' doubles team advanced to the third round before falling.
"I just see us as a more confident team this year," Munoz said. "I did not know what to expect then; this year I do. I know what other teams have, and my expectations are very high."
STATE Playoff Schedule
Girls tennis (all matches at 3 p.m. today)
Division I team tournament
• No. 13 Salpointe Catholic at No. 4 Goodyear Millennium
Division II team tournament
• No. 15 Sahuarita at No. 2 Nogales
• No. 14 Casa Grande at No. 3 Catalina Foothills
• No. 12 Cave Creek Cactus Shadows at No. 5 Ironwood Ridge
• No. 13 Sabino at No. 4 Phoenix Washington
Division III team tournament
• No. 12 Morenci at No. 5 Desert Christian
• No. 9 Chandler Prep at No. 8 Douglas
• No. 13 Pusch Ridge Christian at No. 4 Fountain Hills
• No. 16 Tanque Verde at No. 1 Miami