Yok Jing Ma had a checklist of goals at the start of the tennis season.
The first order of business: Be No. 1 — on his own team.
Mission accomplished and then some.
The blossoming junior led Manteca High to a share of the Valley Oak League title from the top rung of the team ladder, gave the conference’s reigning champion his stiffest challenge and was named the Manteca Bulletin’s All-Area Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
“It was actually a pretty big deal for me,” Ma said of earning the team’s No. 1 spot. “Last year I wrote in my notebook ‘I will be No. 1. I will be No. 1 I will be No.1.’ I wrote that across an entire page.”
That in itself was no easy task. He would have to knock off incumbent No. 1 Mike Lopez, a two-time VOL Singles Tournament finalist, 2013 All-Area Player of the Year and a close friend of Ma’s.
“It was kind of tough having to beat out a good friend, but we try not to take our tennis (personally),” Ma said. “We congratulate each other no matter who wins or loses.”
Ma claimed league doubles titles with two different partners in his first two years with the team. He hoped to achieve the same as a solo act. Standing in his way was Kimball sophomore Garrett Chun.
Chun, the 2013 champ, had his toughest matches againt Ma, who didn’t put up much of a fight in their first meeting — an 0-6, 1-6 loss for Ma — during last year’s VOL tournament.
Ma proved his worth when Manteca hosted Kimball for their first head-to-head showdown. He lost a competitive match 4-6, 4-6 that was even closer than the final numbers show. Ma had chances to extend the match having dropped three no-ad points in the second set. Making matters worse, the Buffaloes lost the team battle, 5-4.
“Being the No. 1 player on the team, I put it on my shoulders to get the point for the team,” Ma said. “I was pretty nervous during the first three games but once I got over that I started playing my game.”
Chun won the rematch at Kimball, 6-1, 6-4. So did Manteca, though. The Buffaloes avenged their lone loss in league with a commanding 6-3 victory that forced the title share.
“I would say that was an off day for me, but I was happy for our team,” Ma said. “What I think made us win that match was experience. During the first half of league our newer players were still getting their feet wet, but in the second they started using basic strategies.”
Chun and Ma had little resistance in setting up their third duel of the season, which took place at Weston Ranch High during the VOL Tournament.
This time, Ma gave Chun real reason for worry. In the end, the more seasoned Chun pulled out a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 win, but it was the toughest match he had ever played against a league opponent in the last two years. For Ma, it’s the toughest loss of his career.
“I was a mess after the match,” Ma said. “I ran to a corner away from everyone else, sat down, covered my face and just let it all out. (Manteca coach Frank) Fontana came over and said, ‘Look how far you came. Last year you could barely win a game (against Chun) and this year you came close.’ I can see what he’s saying now, but I really wanted that one.”
More grueling matches were ahead for Ma.
In the SJS Division II Individual Tournament, Ma dispatched Vanden’s Patrick Bazo 6-0, 7-5 before running into Ceres freshman phenom Nolan McCaig, who prevailed 6-2, 6-0 en route to a runner-up finish.
“The (competition at the) section tournament was exponentially higher than at league,” Ma said. “It motivates me a lot to get better and makes me want to play the really good players. I played really bad in my second match. For some reason I just couldn’t move, but that’s no excuse. I just couldn’t do anything with him.”
The rest of the Buffaloes got a taste of elite competition as qualifiers for the SJS Division II Team Tournament. They dropped a 7-2 decision to Sacramento power Rio Americano, which went on to capture its section-leading 12th banner.
Rio Americano did it without its top player, who was declared academically ineligible for the second half of the season. The Raiders replacement No. 1, Jack Longergan, topped Ma, 6-4, 6-4. Manteca’s Lopez also lost a well-contested match, 6-2, 2-6, 6-7, against Kadyn Silva. Longergan and Silva teamed up to win the section’s Division II doubles championship.
Although Manteca fell short, it may be a favorite to contend for a section crown next season with all but two starters returning.
“I just needed a couple more breaks to go my way,” Ma said of his match. “But seeing how the team competed out there made me very proud and optimistic for next year. I’m looking forward to how good we can actually get. Maybe we can compete for a section title.”
To contact Jonamar Jacinto email email@example.com or call 209.349.3538.