Katie Kim is going into her senior year at Manteca High with more confidence and experience.
She’s the reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Individual Tournament singles champion, the first from her school to achieve this in 38 years. Kim has remained sharp in preparation for her title defense, taking part in group classes and private lessons while traveling outside of the area to face new competition.
“Honestly, I’ve just been doing the same exact thing I’ve always been doing all summer,” Kim said. “I did a travel a little bit more for tournament and did pretty well. It’s actually a lot more refreshing than it is stressful. It’s refreshing to play different girls from different areas and different playing styles.”
Last month, she competed in a United States Tennis Association event in Aptos, placing second. She also participated in a tournament in Elk Grove, taking third in doubles while showing well in a three-set loss to the eventual singles champion.
Kim aspires to play in college and wants to help lead her team back to contendership. While she does not want to add any unnecessary pressure on herself to perform in her final go-around with the Buffs, Kim understands there may be more of a target on her back after a surprising run to the Section title last year. As the third seed, she upset No. 1 Clarissa Sutami of Vista del Lago, 3-6, 7-5, 10-8 in the final.
Kim also has a second-place SJS medal on her résumé earned in doubles play her freshman year. There were no postseason events held for the 2020-21 academic year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Obviously, I want to defend my title, but I’m not as freaked out going into the season as I was last year,” she said. “I feel like when it comes to the Section tournament, it’s not about winning the whole thing, it’s about the experience. I obviously don’t want to play terribly and lose in the first round, but if I lose in the semifinals or finals against a good player, I’ll be more fine with that than be upset about it.”
Kim would like to experience some level of team glory once again. Her freshman year, the Buffaloes won their third SJS championship in four seasons. The Section’s “continued success” rule forced a promotion to the tougher Division II field. After not making the playoffs last year, Manteca is back in Division III and better equipped to compete for a top-three finish in the Valley Oak League.
“I think it’s possible,” Kim said. “We’ve had setbacks and didn’t make the playoffs last year, but I think our players have grown more and we have a stronger base to work with. I think we have a chance to at least make it to the playoffs and maybe go into the later rounds.”
The Buffaloes’ top four players return. Also back is No. 2 singles player Emma Ngo, who went undefeated in the regular season last year as a freshman, junior Christian Nguyen and senior Jenna Poncini.
Longtime coach MaryAnn Tolbert expects Chloe Marquis and Dixsha Singh to play key roles, as well. Marquis played her freshman and sophomore years but took a break in 2021. Singh has experience at both doubles and singles and is now a senior. The Buffs only graduated two players from the ’21 squad.
“We have a lot coming back,” Tolbert said. “We have higher numbers like we’ve had in the past. Last year, we only had like 16 girls, and now we’re back up into the 20s.”
Depth is certainly important for the team to have success, but Tolbert appreciates how her star player sets the tone.
“We didn’t do as well as we had hoped we would in league, but she really led the team as a junior,” Tolbert said. “She does a good job of setting the precedent. She’s the first one out there getting the equipment out and says, ‘Let’s go, ladies, let’s warm up.’ As team captain, she has really developed and is more vocal. She has found her voice a little bit but still leads by example.”
Manteca scrimmages Lincoln at the Manteca Regional Tennis Center on Aug. 16. First contests for fall sports are on Aug. 19. The Buffs open VOL play Sept. 6 against visiting rival Sierra.