Nine boys tennis teams hailing from leagues in the southern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section converged on the courts of Manteca High for the first Manteca Invitational Friday.
The two-day event resumes today with the doubles tournament, weather permitting.
The tournament serves several purposes. For one, there are no tournaments like this in the area, especially around the midway point of the season. Manteca coach Frank Fontana had hoped to attract and showcase some of the top teams and players in the region that would otherwise not have a chance to face each other during league play and postseason tournaments.
It also benefits the program. The Buffaloes, who are currently in first place in the Valley Oak League, will get to test their skills against top competition and hence further their development.
And there is of course a financial benefit, though the program didn’t necessarily make a killing on the first go-around. Teams are charged only $75 apiece — an affordable cost for visiting squads. Compare that to the $250 Manteca spends annually to compete in the prestigious California High School Classic held in the Fresno-Clovis area.
Fontana said he may host a similar tournament for the girls over the fall season.
“I got a really good response from coaches when I sent out invitations at the beginning of the year,” Fontana said. “Even today everybody seemed really enthusiastic about it. They’re happy that somebody in this area is willing to put this together.
“As we progress I’ll refine and add some wrinkles to the tournament. I wish we had a couple more teams come, but I know it can’t be perfect on the first try.”
For the singles portion of the event, players were divided into six flights. The top singles players from each team were in Flight 1, No. 2 players in Flight 2, etc. All doubles teams, meanwhile, will be placed in a single draw.
“Each team brings three doubles teams,” Fontana said. “Typically the skill sets in doubles is not as dramatic as in singles, so I just grouped them together.”
There is an overall team championship at stake. Teams are awarded a point for every match earned in each of the championship brackets, and half a point for contests won in consolation play.
So far, Pitman, the No. 1 team out of the Central California Conference, is atop the tournament standings with 14 points followed by Modesto Metro Conference leading Modesto’s 12 and Manteca’s 8.5. Western Athletic Conference leader Ceres (5.5), Livingston (3.5), Sonora (2.5), Lodi (2) and St. Mary’s of Stockton (2) round out the field.
Fontana said that if Day 2 of the tournament is called off because of rain, Pitman would be crowned champion.
“It doesn’t look good. We’ll make the call at 7 in the morning and go from there,” said Fontana, saying that the remainder of the event would not be made up.
His singles players fared well Friday. Freshman Yok-Jing Ma, Chris Kloska and Jorge Sierra were all runners-up in Flights 4-6, respectively.
Pitman’s Brachton Malek, Luis Velasquez and Beau Powell earned individual titles by beating the Buffalo trio in the finals. The Pride also had second-place finishers in Michael Lazar in the second flight and Marcos Boutros in the third.
Modesto took the remaining three championships. Bijan Origel defeated Julio Ochoa of Ceres 7-5, 6-3 in the Flight-1 finale. Garret Cook and Christian McCaig won the second and third flights, respectively.
For Manteca, Oral Nunis defeated Livingston’s Ray Gomez 6-0, 6-2 in the Flight-1 out-bracket match before falling to fourth-seeded Brandon James of St. Mary’s, 4-6, 6-7.
In Flight 2, Manteca freshman Michael Lopez downed Livingston’s Cruz Trenado 6-3, 7-6 (4) before falling to Lazar in the semifinals.
Jacob Webb was seeded third in Flight 3 but lost a competitive three-set match to Livingston’s Jacob Mercado, 2-6, 7-5 and 11-13 in the super tiebreaker. Webb went on two win two matches in the consolation rounds, so he was able to chip in at least a point for the team.
“It was good for them to play tough competition, which was what I was looking for,” Fontana said. “Everybody, they’ve done all year, contributed. It was a good team effort.”