Manteca High’s girls tennis team has captured three straight Valley Oak League championships without star players at the top of the ladder.
The Buffaloes have instead dominated with depth and camaraderie, and that was on full display Thursday in the VOL Doubles Tournament at the Manteca Regional Tennis Center. Julia Tang and Sahiba Kaur tangled with teammates Makenna Condit and Ellie Kim in the final, winning 6-4, 6-4.
No matter who won, the Buffaloes were sure to have another tandem reign as champion. Last year, Ravneet Dhillon and Navina Mann, doubles partners throughout the season, made an unexpected run to the title.
“It was awkward but it wasn’t as stressful, because either way we win,” Kaur said of opposing teammates in the final. She placed fourth in the singles tourney on Tuesday.
“We’re all good friends regardless,” Tang said. “No matter what, we’re still a team.”
Also on Thursday, Sierra junior Kaitlyn Rausa competed in her third straight VOL singles final. She lost to Central Catholic’s Colleen Ballatore, 2-6, 4-6. All singles and doubles finalists advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Individual Tournament set for Nov. 1-2 at Johnson Ranch Racquet Club in Roseville.
Tang and Kaur opened with an 8-0 shutout of Kimball’s Sam Nguyen and Deeksha Shakya, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing from there. They then got past Oakdale’s Tayla Barry and Lijian Bucad 6-3, 6-2 and outlasted Central Catholic’s Suzanne Manseau and Anne Dunn 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 in the semifinals.
It was certainly an adjustment for Tang and Kaur to play doubles, Manteca’s top two singles players all season. Tang even said she hated playing doubles until now.
“Friendship plays an important role in the partnership,” Tang said. “Even when there were moments when we were down, we were able to pick each other back up.
“It’s an honor for us to win this,” she added. “It represents how hard we work.”
For Kim, it’s her second runner-up finish in as many seasons in doubles competition. The transfer from cross-town rival Sierra was part of the tandem that came up short against Dhillon and Mann in 2017.
Condit and Kim started their road to the final with an 8-2 victory over Weston Ranch’s Angelee Rivera and Ekampreet Kaur. The Manteca pair grinded out a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win against Oakdale’s Kendra Branch and McKenzie Brown in the quarterfinal and beat Kimball’s Hana Lucero and Fayth Hinojosa, 6-2, 6-4.
Sierra’s Nadia Petrovic and Melanie Nguyen was the only other area team to reach the quarterfinal round. They took out Manteca’s Kerren Zou and Melissa Poncini 8-3 before falling to Lucero and Hinojosa, 3-6, 3-6.
In the singles championship, Rausa had an opportunity to force a third set with a 4-1 lead in the second. Ballatore, a sophomore, took the next five games to knock off the defending titlist. Ballatore is responsible for all three of Rausa’s league losses.
“She’s the toughest player I’ve played against in league,” Rausa said. “She’s just a really well-rounded player who has a lot of stamina. It’s fun playing against her, and I’d rather lose to her than anyone else.”
Rausa added that her goal is in the section tournament is to get past the opening round for the first time. For Manteca, it will be a busy postseason starting with the SJS Division III team playoffs. The Buffaloes (16-0) are seeded second and are hosting Ceres in the first round, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday at 2 p.m. Coach MaryAnn Tolbert said the match may be moved to Tuesday.
“We were section champions two years ago,” Tang said. “I got to experience that and loved it, and I would like to pass it along to this team.”