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Cardenas takes singles crown; WR pair tops in doubles
VOL TENNIS3 10-25-13
Sierra Highs Anna Cardenas, far left, gets a hug from head coach Vanessa Weeks as the rest of the Timberwolves wait their turn to congratulate their teammate after she captured the Valley Oak League singles title at the East Union tennis courts on Thursday. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Slow and steady didn’t win the race this time.

Anna Cardenas, the second-seeded senior out of Sierra, used strong serves and groundstrokes to reach Thursday’s Valley Oak League Tournament final against No. 5 Christine Winders of Oakdale, more of a defensive dink-and-dunker who minimalizes mistakes with her more deliberate style.

The two previously met once during the regular season, and Winders was able to use Cardenas’ aggression against her in a win.

The clash of styles was supposed to make for an interesting rematch.

It wasn’t.

Cardenas rolled to a 6-1, 6-2 victory, making her the second Timberwolf to win the VOL singles title in as many years. She follows three-time finalist and 2012 champ Vannida Nguyen.

Also on Thursday, Weston Ranch’s all-senior tandem of Delarine Barut and Danica Ramos made an improbable run to the doubles championship as the No. 6 seed.

“It’s great following in Vannida’s footsteps because she and I are really close,” Cardenas said. “It’s unexplainable. It’s amazing and I feel like I really earned something. All my hard work paid off. I’m really proud.”

Cardenas again played Winders aggressively but was less reckless, choosing instead to pick her spots. The game plan was executed masterfully, as she varied her shots to keep Winders on the run before slamming winners.

“Honestly, I went in a little bit nervous,” said Cardenas, a doubles finalist a year ago. “But I felt that my strengths really showed today. I worked a lot on short balls for this. The first time I played her I was a little too eager. This time I had to control my eagerness and be more patient but still aggressive. I had to set my shots up right and be smart with where I put it, because placement really counted a lot in this match.”

Heart and hustle got Barut and Ramos through a very long day. They won three competitive matches before facing another unlikely final-round team in Manteca High’s unseeded Fechi Nkwocha and Allison Rachels. The Weston Ranch twosome cruised, 6-1, 6-2.

The two Cougars were so weary from their previous match that they couldn’t muster much of a celebration after clinching the final point.

“It was a really hard day,” said Barut, “but we struck it through.”

The best match of the tournament was their semifinal encounter with Oakdale’s Kalkidan Curtis and Christine Kim, the second-seeded tandem. It lasted about 2 ½ hours, with Barut and Ramos gutting out the victory with a third-set tiebreaker, 7-6 (7-2), 5-7, 7-6 (7-5)

“We just had to believe in ourselves,” said Ramos, a first-year player. “We knew we were playing (a team) that is really good. To be honest, (winning) that (match) was the best feeling, just because it went to two tiebreakers and we worked so hard for it.”

Barut and Ramos were physically drained going into the finals because of the marathon match. The same could be said for Nkwocha and Rachels, who played five matches and waited around for nearly two hours after upsetting fellow Buffaloes Sealy McAdams and Elizabeth Tolbert in the other semifinal, 6-1, 6-1.

Nwocha and Rachels knocked off three ranked opponents along the way, including No. 5 Viel Salgarino and Aly Bangayan of Kimball (8-1), and No. 4 East Union pair Brooke Niendorf and Nayeli Del Real (6-2, 5-7, 6-4).

The tournament’s top two seeds ended up playing for third, with No. 1 McAdams-Tolbert downing Curtis-Kim, 6-1, 3-6, 6-2. McAdams was also declared the third-place finisher in singles after winning a coin flip against Kim. They didn’t settle it on the court since they were already squaring off in doubles play.

The singles and doubles finalists qualify for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Tournament on Nov. 7-8 in Roseville.