Manteca wrapped up another dominant campaign in the Valley Oak League on Thursday.
The Buffaloes go into their week-long break from school and the postseason with a 7-2 over Central Catholic, their chief rival during this dynastic run.
“When we play Central it’s always really tight, and then all of the sudden we get those four wins in row when we need them,” Manteca coach MaryAnn Tolbert said. “It’s nice to be able to clinch sole ownership of the title at home.”
She has led the Buffs (12-0, 18-1 overall) to a fourth consecutive VOL title and sixth in eight years, and they boast a 58-match winning streak in league.
“Crazy,” Tolbert said.
Or, part of the master plan.
Manteca’s reign, which features Sac-Joaquin Section Division III crowns in 2016 and 2018, has no end in sight even with eight varsity players graduating. The team’s four best players, including freshman Katie Kim, all return next year, but it’s not just the standouts who have kept the team competitive.
“One of the best things about our team is our JV,” Tolbert said. “We have consistently been able to, as we graduate girls, fill those spots because the JV players work hard. That is huge for us.
“It takes a really strong girl to come out here and practice every year for two years and not get to play, but when they finally get their turn they’re able to step right in and there’s no difference.”
Of the eight graduating seniors, only Melissa Poncini has had four years worth of varsity experience. That makes her the only Buffalo to be part of all four of their current streak of league championships. She and Kaileah Johannson did their part Thursday with a 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 win over Isabella Khacho and Mia Milligi at No. 1 doubles.
“It’s been really fun,” Poncini said. “We work really hard and coach always says every game is business as usual, but I don’t take it for granted. I always try to play my best every time. This has just been really special.”
Four of the matches went to a third set. Manteca already had the win in hand by the time Johannson and Poncini got done. The clincher came from No. 2 doubles Isabella Huerta and Danielle Diaz, who came back to knock off Liz Thorpe and Caden Wilson, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. It just so happens to be the same tandem that got the fifth team point that secured the Buffaloes section title last year.
“Both of them had been battling some knee and back injuries,” Tolbert said. “They were down after the first set and it really could have gone either way, but they sucked it up and came back.”
Manteca won all three doubles contests, with No. 3 Amorina Tse and Heather Pang punctuating the league finale, 6-2, 6-2.
Ellie Kim (6-1, 6-1), Sahiba Kaur (6-1, 6-0) and Yanki Ma (6-3, 6-1) provided Manteca with the early wins, and No. 4 Kerren Zou followed with a 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-1 victory over Anne Dunn.
At No. 6 singles, Jocellia Roberts kept Central Catholic (10-2, 11-4) in the fight by warding off Kalissa Martin, 6-1, 7-5.
Meanwhile, Katie Kim was dueling with reigning VOL singles champion Colleen Ballatore. Kim dropped their previous encounter 5-7, 0-6 and put up a valiant effort in the rematch before falling, 6-4, 2-6, 2-6.
“It’s hard to be the No. 1 because you’re playing the best players in the league every single match, but she’s been able to push herself and stay positive,” Tolbert said. “She’s not even 14 yet, and it’s great tennis to see her and Colleen go at it.”
Manteca will tune up for the individual and team postseason tournaments on Oct. 21 against reigning SJS Division I champion Rocklin. The VOL singles and doubles tournaments take place Oct. 22 and 24 at Central Catholic, the section team playoffs begin Nov. 4 and the SJS individual tournament is on Nov. 7-8 at Johnson Ranch Racquet Club in Roseville.