Head coach Mary Ann Tolbert knew her defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champion Manteca girls tennis team was going to be good again this season.
But how good?
Assistant coach Beto Lopez wanted to find out.
Enter the California Classic, a prestigious high school tournament held in the Fresno area for both the girls and boys tennis seasons. Manteca did not enter the last three years.
“We knew were weren’t going to get much of a preseason because league starts so early, so we thought this would be a really good experience and this is the type of group of girls you want to take,” Tolbert said. “We have girls who are really committed and he convinced me we should go back. We did some fund raising over the summer and that paid for the entrance fee.
“The girls were super excited to about going and they had a really good time.”
The Buffaloes returned last Friday and Saturday and came home with the California Classic Division III championship. They went 5-0 overall and was well tested by Vacaville in their final match, a 4-2 victory at Clovis North. Group play on Friday took place at Clovis West.
Katie Kim edged out Nia Macay 4-6, 6-1, 10-5, Ellie Kim held off Katelyn Crimson 6-1, 2-6, 10-2 an Kerren Zou outlasted Lily Holman 5-7, 6-1, 11-9 in the hotly-contested singles matches against Vacaville.
Isabella Huerta and Danielle Diaz won 7-6 (2), 6-2 at No. 3 doubles. The Sahiba Kaur-Melissa Poncini (6-7, 4-6) and Yanki Ma-Kalissa Martin (6-4, 0-6, 4-10) tandems were also involved in high-pressure matches.
Manteca also defeated Saugus of Santa Clarita 4-2 in the championship division on Saturday. Its previous best finish was in 2013 when they placed third in Division VII.
“Our girls got to play some tough competitors, and some of our singles players got to play doubles and even they saw extremely strong doubles teams,” Tolbert said. “It was all-around a great chance to really get a feel for what we have going toward the end of the season.”
It was also a chance to put their first loss in two seasons behind them. Last Thursday, Manteca lost to reigning Central California Athletic League champion Gregori 5-4 in a non-league match in Modesto. Now 9-1, the Buffs — who finished 19-0 in 2018 — return to their defense of the Valley Oak League title today against Kimball.
“We got to see how the girls were going to react after a loss,” Tolbert said. “We did not play very well at all against Gregori, and we had a deep discussion after that. They bounced back the next day and won their first three matches in the tournament.”
Manteca rolled past Santa Ynez of Morro Bay 6-0, Piedmont 4-2 and tourney co-host Clovis West, 5-2.
Katie Kim, only a freshman and the team’s No. 1 player, suffered her first loss of the season in the Clovis West encounter, falling 1-6, 1-6 to Gianna Mastro — a two-star sophomore, according to Tennis Recruiting Network, who is drawing interest from Division I universities on the West Coast. Kim won the rest of her matches in the tourney.
Kim had been on a roll since scoring a 6-4, 6-3 upset of three-time VOL singles tournament finalist Kaitlyn Rausa in her high school debut.
“There were a lot of girls in the tournament who have UTR ratings (Universal Tennis Rating),” Tolbert said. “It was exciting to get Katie and Ellie (they’re sisters) and whoever had the third singles spot a chance to play some really good players with UTR ratings. We knew going into the Clovis West match that she was going to have a tough opponent, and we really had to rely on the other girls to come through for us.”