Sierra showcased its talented trio of underclassmen this week in the Valley Oak League singles and doubles tournaments, while Manteca proved again why its depth is what has anchored the team’s recent success.
As expected, Sierra sophomore Kaitlyn Rausa put the finishing touches of her dominant season in league with a 6-2, 6-0 sweep of Central Catholic’s Sarah Van Ness in the singles championship Thursday at Oakdale High.
Meanwhile, Manteca’s Ravneet Dhillon and Navina Mann achieved a rare feat in claiming the doubles crown as the No. 8 seed.
It was the second straight final-round appearance for Rausa, the 2016 runner-up. Her two regular-season matches with Van Ness produced similar results.
“I was just trying to keep my cool and trying not to overthink the situation considering that it was the finals,” Rausa said. “Just continue doing what I did before in my previous matches with her.”
She had little resistance in compiling an 18-0 record against league opponents this season. Her toughest competition came from her two regular-season showdowns with Manteca’s Julia Tang, who retired from her semifinal on Tuesday. In the other semifinal, Rausa fended off Sierra teammate Nadia Petrovic, 7-6, 6-0.
“I was pretty sad I had to face my own teammate, but I was glad she could make the finals (in the doubles tournament) and be able to come to sections with me,” Rausa said.
The singles and doubles finalists qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Tournament, which takes place Nov. 2-3 at Johnson Ranch Racquet Club in Roseville.
Petrovic teamed with freshman Ellie Kim for the VOL doubles tournament, but the grizzled Dhillon-Mann combo bucked the trend of a “super doubles” team taking the title with its thrilling 6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-4 triumph in the final.
Petrovic and Kim, seeded second, appeared to have it in hand when they were ahead 40-15 in the sixth game of the third set in which they led, 4-1.
“Our teammates were really helpful for cheering us on — it helped us come back up,” said Dhillon, one of just four Buffalo seniors. “I was nervous but my partner helped me.”
Their experience together was key. They went undefeated in league dual matches as Manteca’s No. 1 doubles tandem the past two seasons, and despite their placement on the team ladder head coach MaryAnn Tolbert includes the two among her club’s top players.
“Our coaches were very tactical in putting two strong players at No. 1 doubles,” Mann said. “Although at least one of us deserves to play singles, we knew what was best for the team, and as a doubles team we were able to maintain some balance.”
Mann and Dhillon knocked off three of the top four-seeded teams, including No. 1-seeded Koryn Menasco and Taylor Corona in the semifinals, 7-5, 6-3. Menasco and Corona are the Nos. 2 and 3 players for the reigning champion Buffaloes.
“It’s always awkward when players from our own team play each other,” Tolbert said. “As the coach you just wish them the best of luck and watch. Rav and Navina just had an excellent game. At that point it was like, ‘Is this really happening?’
“I’ve always said our Nos. 1-6 can beat each other on any day, but it obviously goes deeper than that. If Rav or Navina went to any other school they’d be 2 or 3 if not the 1.”
Sierra coach Ed Melfort chalked it up as a “learning experience” for his promising duo. He’s still proud to have two sophomores and a freshman competing at the section’s individual tournament next week.
“It’s huge,” Melfort said. “We had two of our players in the (singles) semifinals and one in the quarters and they knocked each other out of the tournament because they were all on the same side of the bracket. Nadia is the only one to take Kaitlyn to a tiebreaker.
“(The doubles final) was a very close match we probably should have won, but some things happened and they didn’t respond well. It would have been nice to have a doubles championship as well, but we had a freshman and a sophomore go up against a seasoned doubles team that hasn’t lost a match all year.”