Kaitlyn Rausa’s final season with the Sierra girls tennis team went better than she had hoped.
“It went a lot longer than expected, honestly,” she said.
Rausa, lauded for her humility as much as her abilities on the court, goes out as both champion and a four-time recipient of the Manteca Bulletin All-Area Girls Tennis Player of the Year award. She is Sierra’s most accomplished tennis player in school history, earning two Valley Oak League titles while leading the Timberwolves to their first Sac-Joaquin Section championship in the sport.
“Even though I have my (accomplishments), I want to make sure I’m not getting too big headed thinking I’m a great player when in reality I’m OK,” Rausa said. “I know there are much better people out there.”
No in the area had a better postseason run after it appeared early on that she may not get a chance to return to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Individual Tournament.
In Valley Oak League duals, she lost twice to Manteca freshman phenom Katie Kim and twice more to reigning singles champion Colleen Ballatore of Central Catholic. A Ballatore-Kim final in the VOL Singles Tournament seemed inevitable, and only the top two placers qualify for the section tourney.
Rausa would get the better of both on bigger stages.
In the league tournament, she upset second-seeded Kim 6-0, 7-6 in the semifinal round and topped older sister Ellie Kim 6-2, 6-0 for her second VOL title in three seasons. Ballatore retired in the semifinals, but Rausa would get one last shot at the Raiders standout she had never before defeated.
“Even though Katie was in her first year of high school I knew she was a very good player,” Rausa said. “I was pretty happy to be able to play good matches against her even though I lost the first two times, but I was excited when I did win our third matchup.”
Fast-forward to the SJS Division IV championship in the team playoffs at Modesto Junior College, where Rausa and Ballatore were locked in one of the pivotal marathon matches that helped the Timberwolves rally from a 4-0 deficit to a 5-4 victory of their VOL rival that beat them twice by the same score in the regular season.
Rausa tied the team score at 4-4 with her hard-earned 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3) triumph.
“I was always super excited to play against her because she’s not only a very good player but we’ve also gotten closer over the past two years,” Rausa said of Ballatore. “Our last match was a bittersweet moment, but I wish her all the best for next year.”
The team’s achievement may have been the biggest surprise of all.
Sierra finished in a third-place tie in league for a second straight year, and its postseason fate was again decided by a coin flip.
After losing the toss to Kimball in 2018, when the Jaguars went on to meet eventual champ Central Catholic in the Division IV championship, luck favored Timberwolves this time as they got the nod over Oakdale for the VOL’s last of three available postseason berths. League titlist Manteca competed in the more competitive SJS Division III bracket and claimed its third banner in four seasons.
Sierra took advantage of the opportunity to mount a championship run of its own, first knocking off second-seeded and previously-unbeaten Mountain House, 5-4. The T’wolves followed with a less-dramatic 6-3 win at Florin.
Rausa did her part for the team, winning all three No. 1 singles matches. Getting to celebrate a title with the rest of the Timberwolves was a special moment for the senior, who led them to a runner-up finish two years ago.
It was junior Jasmine Sebastian who put the finishing touches on Sierra’s stunning win over Central Catholic, coming back to defeat Victoria Borba in three sets in the No. 5 singles match, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my team considering that we had so many new players or players with only one year of experience,” Rausa said. “Everybody really stepped up to win those three matches. I was impressed.”
Winning individual and teams titles weren’t all she strived for.
Rausa was a long shot to reach the semifinals of the SJS individual tournament in previous years, but she achieved that in her fourth appearance at Roseville’s Johnson Ranch Racquet Club. After sweeping her first two opponents, Rausa met No. 1-seeded Jasjot Sandhu of Mira Loma in the semifinals and lost 2-6, 4-6 to the eventual champion.
“I was ecstatic when I got to the second day,” Rausa said. “Even though I lost on the second day, it was to the No. 1 seed so I don’t feel so bad. I was proud to actually make it that far.”
Kaitlyn Rausa, Sierra, Sr.
Katie Kim, Manteca, Fr.
Sahiba Kaur, Manteca, Jr.
Ellie Kim, Manteca, Sr.
Nadia Petrovic, Sierra, Sr.
Melanie Nguyen, Sierra, Jr.