TRACY — Vannida Nguyen and Rosa Zou are hoping the third time is the charm when they lock up for the Valley Oak League singles championship Thursday at Kimball High.
Top-seeded Nguyen of Sierra has twice come away empty-handed in previous tournament finales, while Manteca High’s Zou looks to beat her friendly rival after dropping their two regular-season matches.
On Tuesday, Nguyen battled through cramps to get past Weston Ranch’s Chelsea Olitan 6-2, 6-1 in the semifinals. Nguyen said both of her legs cramped up after winning the first game, resulting in a 30-minute delay. By the time play resumed, No. 2 Zou had already taken care of fourth-seeded Rebekah Jacobson of East Union 7-5, 6-3 in the other semifinal.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to go through with it,” Nguyen said. “Throughout the whole match I was just trying to think of anything else (but the pain).”
Taking second for two straight years certainly crossed her mind.
“That was exactly what pulled me through the injury,” she added. “I could not forfeit and not go back to (the Sac-Joaquin Section Tournament) my senior year. During the match I was fired up, just trying to motivate myself.”
Nguyen earlier struggled to find motivation in her first match with teammate Naomi Nunis, who topped Weston Ranch’s Delarine Barut 9-7 in the opening round. Nguyen, one of eight seeded players awarded first-round byes, dispatched Nunis 8-3 before beating No. 8 Wendy Lin of Manteca 6-0, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.
“Coach (Vanessa Weeks) was telling us to not feel so bad, but it was painful playing her,” Nguyen said of her contest with Nunis.
Zou also coasted into the semifinals, where she met her toughest challenge in Jacobson. She started with an 8-2 win over Sierra’s Anna Cardenas and a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Sonora’s Stephanie Hart.
“It’s just been a mixture of luck and using what Coach (MaryAnn) Tolbert and Coach (Frank) Fontana have taught me,” Zou said of her tournament run.
Zou came closest to spoiling Nguyen’s perfect league season. She took the two-time runner-up to a third set in their first meeting, ultimately dropping a 6-2, 1-6, 4-6 heartbreaker. In the rematch, Nguyen prevailed 6-0, 7-5.
“It was mostly mental, Zou said. “The first time we played she was in top form, and I had arm cramps (from a weekend tournament in Clovis). When we played the second time I was trying too hard at first, but once I got into it I played a lot better in the second set.”