There's an upside to postponing the fall sports season for the Sierra High girls tennis team.
If the reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champion Timberwolves do get to play in the spring, along with their male counterparts, they'll get to do so on a completely-rebuilt playing surface on campus.
This long-overdue project was made possible by Measure G, approved by voters in November of 2014. Sierra's tennis teams have used its facility for practices only in recent years, but space was limited due to widening cracks and other trip hazards that made some of the courts unsafe and unusable. The Timberwolves have been hosting competitions at Manteca Regional Tennis Center on Union Road, about a mile and half away from school.
“It's gigantic that we're going to get to play here,” sixth-year boys tennis coach Dan Duke said. A teacher on campus, Duke was checking out the work being done on the courts during a break from class.
“Over there (at the tennis center), it's open to the public and we'd have to share time. The first couple of years we only got to use five of the six courts, so having your own — there are advantages to it.”
The old surface was demolished on Sept. 8, and athletic director Andrew Lee has been impressed with the progress. He said the courts are expected to be done in late October.
“It's kind of a perfect time to do this with no students on campus,” Lee said.
Students have been distance learning because of the coronavirus pandemic, and athletes at the youth and prep levels are limited to physical conditioning activities with their teams. Seasons would otherwise be in full swing for high school football, girls volleyball, girls tennis, girls golf, cross country and water polo.
On July 20, the California Interscholastic Federation announced a revised schedule for its postseason events, ultimately pushing back the start of fall sports to late December/early January. Some fall sports, such as girls tennis, were moved to the spring.
Sierra's new digs will have less courts, down to six from the original seven. There are plans for an open space on what used to be Court 1, which could eventually transform into a multi-use facility for the physical education department. Lee added that a decision has not been made on the color of the surface, which previously featured blue courts with a green exterior.
The original tennis courts have undergone minor renovations since its construction along with the school in 1994. Cracks were filled in and the courts were repainted in 2011.
“Within one to two years the cracks reappeared and were even bigger,” vice principal Anthony Chapman said. He was athletic director at the time. “We were told it was a permanent fix.”
The permanent fix has finally arrived. Large mounds of dirt has been removed from the site, making way for road base material that is now being applied. Chapman said the previous courts were laid on thin layers of sand, which led to the cracking and uneven surfaces.
Sierra girls coach Ed Melfort is eager to see the finished product and reap the benefits of the facility on campus. He said transportation to “home” matches and practices have been an issue in his four-plus years as coach.
“We love the tennis center and the courts are great over there, but it's not like being at home,” Melfort said. “I've only had one home match in my five years and that was on accident — Tracy High showed up for a practice match that their previous coach forgot to remove on their schedule and so we played. That's been it.
“We've never had home-court advantage since I've been coach. We don't have the students on site to watch them play. Our program has been doing very well but the students wouldn't know because we're off site. It's going to be so much better for the program.”