Mike Powers| News-Bulletin photo
A unique pairing, Jennifer and Matt Castillo are head coaches of the rival Valencia and Los Lunas tennis teams.

LOS LUNAS — “Love” is a scoring term used in tennis meaning zero. In love-15, for example, the server is trailing zero to one. Yes, it seems silly.  

However, love has a more traditional meaning for Jennifer and Matt Castillo when it comes to their affection for the sport of tennis — and each other.   

The couple had been coaching the Valencia boys and girls for the last six years, with Matt as head coach and Jennifer his assistant. This year, however, they split up. No, not the marriage, but the responsibilities.  

While Matt remains at VHS, Jennifer has taken over the head-coaching duties at rival Los Lunas.  

“I didn’t want to see it squished,” Jennifer said of the LLHS program. “I didn’t want them to not have a team because they didn’t have a coach.”   

When the LLHS position opened, Jennifer says they were contacted by Wilson Holland, Los Lunas Schools director of athletics, to see if they would be willing to handle both programs.  

“I told him (Matt), ‘That’s a lot to do both,’” Jennifer said. “You’re already situated with Valencia. You continue with Valencia, and I’ll take over Los Lunas.’”  

That community commitment was evident eight years ago when Jennifer and Matt started running a club tennis program in Valencia County, which included their sons, Xavier and Isaiah.  

Even though both have now graduated, “We still want tennis to be successful and keep growing here in Los Lunas Schools,” Jennifer said.  

She admits there was some hesitation.  

“I’ve always been Matt’s little sidekick, doing the paperwork, just picking up balls and stuff,” she said. “So being in charge, especially the first day, it was kind of overwhelming. I was nervous being thrown in.”  

So far, so good.   

“She’s really helping us to get back into things, becoming a better team altogether,” said Alayna Viramontes, the Tigers top player, of her coach. “There’s a lot of things that are different. Her coaching style is more strict — a lot more wanting us to get better. Improving every day.   

“I’m really enjoying it,” Viramontes, a senior, added, “… ready to have a great last season with this new coach.”  

He may be biased, but Matt has also been impressed.  

“Right away you could see that experience she had all those years with Valencia,” Matt said. “She was just able to pick it up, take it for the Los Lunas side.”  

Despite coaching separate teams, the Castillos still see plenty of each other, with practices for both at the Huning Ranch tennis courts.  

“Some of the things I do the same, some of the things I do differently,” Jennifer said of her coaching approach compared to her husband. “I’ve had to adjust because I have so many more players.  

“I’ve tried to find a groove so they’re not standing around so much because there’s only one of me and 25 of them.”  

In mid-March, Valencia and Los Lunas squared off in a dual match, with the VHS boys and the LLHS girls coming out on top. While Jennifer said there was a “little” trash talk beforehand, Matt called it, “Just another match. At the end of the day, we practice here. Los Lunas is on this side of the courts, we’re on that side — our players play all the time.”  

The Jaguars have eight boys, six of them returners, and “should be semi-competitive in our district,” Matt said. With only five girls, “We’re just trying to develop them, get them some experience.”  

The roster for the Tigers is more robust. There are 10 girls, two with experience, and 15 boys, with eight veterans from last season.  

Some of them, especially on the boys side, are really starting to “pick it up,” Jennifer said. “They’re super athletic.” 

Neither LLHS or VHS are considered challengers for a state title. Los Lunas lost Thursday to the Belen boys and girls by identical 8-1 scores; however, the Castillo’s are looking long term.  

“I think our goal is to keep getting players, get them to have fun, to just stay with it,” Jennifer said. 

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Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.