STOCKTON — Dhillon Patel embraced No. 1 doubles partner Kevin Lin after their win, then turned to belt out a message for all other fellow Buffaloes to hear:
“Let’s go Manteca!”
There was no stopping them in their second attempt at winning a Sac-Joaquin Section championship Thursday at the University of the Pacific’s Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center.
The dominoes dropped after Patel and Lin secured Manteca’s first of five unanswered points against River City. The No. 3 doubles duo of Robert Foo and Niko Plares locked down the clinching point, and the Buffaloes went on to triumph, 7-2.
Joining in on the celebration were coach MaryAnn Tolbert and members of her Manteca girls tennis team. Incidentally, the Lady Buffs also beat River City by the same score to earn their own section title in the fall.
Patel is one of three four-year starters on the team who were part of a frustrating 5-4 loss to Ceres in the 2015 Division III title match, and last year it was River City (20-3) that knocked out Manteca in the semifinal round.
“We lost to them pretty badly and I wanted revenge,” Patel said. “I wanted to leave it all on the court and Kevin was playing amazingly, hitting beautiful shots. We accomplished what we needed to and got to cheer on everybody else. It just kept rolling and rolling and here we are.”
The Buffaloes (19-6) quickly racked up the points soon after Patel and Lin dispatched Zack Kravchauo, 6-1, 6-2. The all-senior No.2 doubles tandem of Jake Tolbert and Cameron Gonzalez wrapped up their lopsided 6-1, 6-2 win over Justin Yang and Travis Burns. Then Si Hao Tang, another fourth-year senior, put away Antonio Quenga 6-1, 6-1 at No. 2 singles.
Sophomore Solman Aniss, Manteca’s top player, bounced back from losses in the first two postseason matches with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Joshua Sharon. Aniss was outclassed by two-time SJS Division II Individual Tournament finalist Nolan McCaig of Ceres on Monday.
“It humbled me as a player, but more importantly it helped me improve my game and realize what I needed to work on,” Aniss said. “It definitely prepared me for this next match and I was really eager to win this one considering I lost my first two. I felt like I had to redeem myself and contribute to the team.”
Manteca was a win away from the championship, but coach Frank Fontana wasn’t any more comfortable with the 4-0 lead as he paced back and forth on the main walkway of the state-of-the-art, 12-court facility. That’s because the remaining five matches were far more competitive than the ones that had just ended.
“I got nervous, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I was thinking we may have the collapse of the century. Luckily, our third doubles built themselves a pretty good lead.”
All eyes were on Foo and Plares after they split the first two sets with Jose Mrohd and Marton Bryant 6-4, 1-6. They took the first five games in the third, but the Raiders duo managed to stave off match point and extended the it.
Mrohd and Bryant did all they could to keep it going, especially in the match-ending rally in which they returned two straight overhead smashes from Foo. Foo made sure to get it right on the third.
“I just wanted to get it across the court and away from him,” Foo said. “I kept hitting it right to him.
“I didn’t realize we were the fifth win,” he added. “I figured there were still a lot of singles matches going on.”
Manteca No. 3 Yok Eyh Ma squeaked out a 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (4) victory against Robby Saehm. Ma and Tang were the No. 1 doubles team that lost the deciding match in the section final two years ago.
Yok Whai Ma (2-6, 2-6) and Joseph Poncini (6-7 , 2-6) dropped their matches at No. 4 and 5 singles, respectively. The Buffaloes finally got to celebrate as a complete team after No. 6 De’Angelo Caldera knocked off Bryant Ngo 7-6 (6), 6-3.
“This wasn’t just for the team, this was for Coach Fontana,” Aniss said. His older brothers Mostafa and Yassen Aniss are former standout tennis players at Manteca. “He’s been doing this for 12 years and he’s gone undefeated and won league but he’s never gotten a section banner. To be able to do that for him is huge for all of us.”
Fontana said the championship is a result of all the hard work put in by all of the players who have gone through his program. Included is Beto Lopez-Ellis, now Fontana’s assistant.
“It’s not just about this team but all the teams and players I’ve had over the years,” he said. “It was a process to get here and those guys contributed to it. If I didn’t have that first team that was so committed it wouldn’t have led us to this day.”