Two seasons ago, the Bakersfield College women’s tennis program was one of the worst in the state.

Now it’s among the best.

“The mentality changed,” said Nick Loudermilk, who became the program’s head coach before the 2016 season and has overseen the transformation.

“When I came in, the program was bare,” Loudermilk said. “It had the minimum six players, and those six players couldn’t play competently. There was a real danger of the program being dropped for a year or two. It’s back in a good place.”

It’s been a quick recovery: A winless season in 2015, to 11-9 in 2016, to 18-4 this season. The Renegades finished as part of a three-way tie for first place in the Western State Conference with Glendale and Santa Monica. Each were 10-2 in WSC play.

BC is set to open the Southern California playoffs today at Orange Coast College.

Each of the BC losses this season have been 5-4.

“So we’re a few points away from being 22-0,” Loudermilk said. “The four teams we’ve lost to, all four are ranked in the top 4 in our region.”

BC, ranked No. 5 in Southern California, hasn’t faced Irvine Valley (10-4), which is the top-ranked team in the South. The Renegades’ four losses are to No. 4 Orange Coast, their playoff opponent; No. 3 Santa Monica; No. 2 Glendale; and Canada, a school in Redwood City near San Francisco that is No. 4 in Northern California.

BC also has a 5-4 win over Santa Monica and a 6-3 win over Glendale.

Glendale is 15-2 with its only losses to BC and Santa Monica. Santa Monica is 12-3 with its only losses to BC, Glendale and Division II Cal State Los Angeles.

Loudermilk said one of the keys to BC’s success is its ability to win 5-4 matches.

A season ago, five of BC’s 11 wins were 5-4. “That means five of those matches could’ve gone the other way,” he said.

This season, BC has four 5-4 victories.

“My team is not superstars,” he said. “I’ve turned them into a consistent team. They grind out points. They fight for the extra ball. It’s unbelievable how many times we made one more ball and we win a point we shouldn’t have. That gives us a mental edge, and it affects the other team that thought they had the point and now they miss a shot.”

Several new players have helped push BC to higher success this season.

Paige Darstein, a freshman from Independence, is playing No. 1 singles, so she’s facing opponents’ best players. Among her opponents are two former state champions and a state finalist.

No. 2 player Riley Tucker, a sophomore from Garces, played No. 1 last season. She has had great success: 18-3 in singles in the regular season and went undefeated in WSC dual meets.

“She’s 18-3 in doubles as well,” Loudermilk said. “She has flourished in the No. 2 spot.”

Rounding out BC’s ladder are No. 3 singles player Brittany Aguilar, a sophomore from Bakersfield Christian; No. 4 Kaylee Defrees (sophomore, Frontier), No. 5 Arianna Acevedo (freshman, Wasco) and Serena Contreras (freshman, Wasco).

The doubles teams are Darstein-Defrees, Tucker-Aguilar and Acevedo-Contreras. All three teams have qualified for the individual state championships to be held April 27-30 in Ojai. Darstein and Riley have qualified for the state meet in singles, and Defrees has a chance to earn a spot when she has a super backdraw match on Friday.

“When you look at 3 through 7, we are deep and they are all the same type of player,” Loudermilk said.

He said another factor in the team’s success was the work put in before the season.

“I worked out with a lot of them before the season started,” he said. “I worked on a personal level with every one of these players. I didn’t do that last year. We’ve put in the extra time this year, and it has really paid off.”

Loudermilk had Bakersfield ties before becoming the coach at BC. He graduated from Bakersfield High in 2000 and played two years on the BC men’s team for former coach Rob Slaybaugh.

He taught tennis in Hawaii and South Carolina, and also taught the sport at Stockdale Country Club.

Jeff Evans can be reached at 661-395-7389. Follow him on Twitter at @baksports.

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