By TONY ACOSTA
STOCKTON — Seniors Isabella Huerta and Danielle Diaz are used to being the finishers for the Manteca High girls tennis team.
In the 2018 Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship dual match, Huerta and Diaz claimed the deciding match. In the 2019 edition it was no different.
Huerta and Diaz once again hugged while swarmed by their teammates after securing the Buffaloes’ third section title in four seasons with a 6-2, 7-5 win over Paige Van Pelt and Bridget Quain, as top seed Manteca beat No. 6 Vanden of Fairfield 5-4 in a hard-fought title dual match Tuesday at the Oak Park Tennis Center.
The Buffaloes ended their season at 22-1.
“It feels amazing (to repeat as champions),” said Huerta, the Buffs’ “Honestly, we promised each other we were going to win this. I was tired, we were both tired, and we needed to win this right now. We’ve been waiting for this all year.”
Diaz felt energized by the support of throng of the Buffaloes’ fans who made the 15-mile drive to Stockton.
“You can kind just feel the atmosphere,” Diaz said. “When you feel your teammates cheering for you, it’s just amazing. You understand that and they need you. The hardest part is supporting your teammates but at the same time hold yourselves up, but we did it.”
The Buffaloes received three solid performances in singles: junior Ellie Kim blanked Sarah Bergendhal 6-0, 6-0 in the No. 2 spot, junior Sahiba Kaur cruised past Audrey Lagrisola 6-0, 6-1 at third singles, and No. 5 Yanki Ma routed Maya Khanna 6-2, 6-2.
“If it weren’t for our coaches, I wouldn’t have made it this far,” Kim said. “They were constantly pushing us forward, that’s what helped us win this title today. It was the section finals and I wasn’t expecting a 9-0 win, more like 5-4. Something close and intense.”
Kaur said, “It feels good to win with my team, and it’s become kind of a habit. Hopefully next year again we can do this. We worked very hard to get this far, and I was glad we were able to do it. Honestly we felt we were better, but that was not a reason to slack off. We just had to work hard.”
Seniors Kaileah Johansson and Melissa Poncini added to the victory total with a 6-2, 7-5 win over Justine Legasby and Priya Manger at first doubles.
The Vikings won three singles and one doubles match. Manteca freshman Katie Kim lost to Katie McDaniel 6-3, 6-4 at No. 1 singles; the Buffaloes’ Kerron Zou lost to Sasha Smith 7-5, 6-3; and Manteca’s Kalissa Martin won the first set against Delaney Ramsell 7-5, but with the team match decided, the duo played a 10-point tiebreaker, which Ramsell won. The Vanden player was credited with the win after Martin declined to play another tiebreaker.
In third doubles, Manteca’s Amorina Tse and Heather Pang lost to Jasmine Yabult and Camille Arca 7-6 (2), 6-4
Winning the Division III title this year was special to longtime Manteca coach Mary Ann Tolbert.
“What makes this most satisfying is that there are eight seniors,” Tolbert said. “They came to win. It is a testament to our JV program because they showed up every day (for practice) and work hard in the offseason. We graduate girls and then (new ones) have been able to slide in to pick up the slack.”
After savoring their triumph, Tolbert and her coaching now begin the task of rebuilding their team. But she hopes her players will look on winning the section title with pride.
“I want them to remember not only the wins but the experience and what it took to get there,” Tolbert said. “We pride ourselves in being a team sport and sometimes it gets lost along the way. It’s not about the individual wins and losses but getting the five points as a team. I’m so proud of them and how they put the team first.”