By JONAMAR JACINTO
Katie Inderbitzin and Elizabeth Tolbert once represented the bottom rung of the Manteca girls tennis team’s ladder.
As freshmen, they were a formidable pair at No. 3 doubles and helped the Buffaloes snap a 21-year title drought in the Valley Oak League. The following year Manteca repeated with Indertbizin elevated to No. 1 doubles and Tolbert going undefeated in league as the No. 3 singles player.
“I always looked up to the older girls and wished that I could be as good as them,” Tolbert said. “It’s incredible to think that we’ve come this far.”
Now, it’s their team.
“It’s our time to shine,” Inderbitzin said.
They’re just two of the four seniors on this team of 31 players and are far and away the most experienced Buffaloes. After a first-round exit in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs and a disappointing second-place finish to then-VOL newcomer Central Catholic, Manteca’s grizzled tandem wants nothing more than to reclaim the throne and make school history.
The journey starts today when Manteca hosts, sure enough, the Raiders of Central Catholic — also the section’s reigning Division III champions.
“We’re training hard and we’ve been training all summer,” Tolbert said. “This is what we’ve been waiting for. I want to go out with a bang.”
Manteca’s girls tennis team has never advanced to a section final, but that’s become possible with the addition of a third division. Manteca dropped a 5-4 heartbreaker to Tri-County Conference champion River City, which went on to lose to Central Catholic in the title match by the same score.
“They were part of championship teams and they worked a lot with the older girls, so they know what’s expected and they’re great leaders,” Manteca coach MaryAnn Tolbert said. She’s also Elizabeth’s mom.
“Lizzie and Katie are motivated to win another (league title) after what happened last year, and of course the team wants to win sections,” said Coach MaryAnn Tolbert, Elizabeth’s mother. “It’s a goal of ours, but until we play Central it’s hard to say how much of a chance we have.”
Central Catholic arrived from the Western Athletic Conference last season and its new rivals didn’t know what to expect. The Raiders made their statement by knocking off the two-time VOL champion Buffaloes in the season opener.
It was an impressive run for Central. Payton Kelley defeated teammate Arnie Ardis for the VOL singles title, and Emma Withrow and Faith Masellis captured the doubles crown. Kelley and Withrow — the Raiders’ No. 1 and 3 players last year — have since graduated.
Manteca has also had some holes to fill. Behind Elizabeth Tolbert and Inderbitzin is a new crop of singles players: sophomore Koryn Menasco, junior Gladis Sandoval, sophomore Taylor Corona and freshman Julia Tang. Of the team’s six doubles players, three are new to the team and have no prior varsity experience.
Inderbitzin has faith in her teammates.
“A lot of girls out here want to play,” she said. “They put in the effort and they want to be here. I want to be a good leader and leave an impact on them.”