Scheduling may have conspired against Manteca leading up to its pivotal Valley Oak League duel with rival Sierra on Thursday.
The host Buffaloes were about to play their third match in as many days, leaving them no time to practice before the big showdown. It’s also finals week for the players, many of them advanced placement students.
“It was definitely a concern,” Manteca coach MaryAnn Tolbert said.
Perhaps not so much for her team, which once again asserted itself as the top dog in league with a commanding 7-2 victory over the second-place Timberwolves. Manteca improved to 11-0 (13-1 overall) and needs just one more win to secure at least a share of its third championship in five seasons. Central Catholic owns the last two with the Buffaloes settling for successive runner-up finishes.
“I was prepared for a 5-4 either way,” Tolbert said. “I told the girls the worst thing that can happen is that we share (the title). I was hoping the pressure was off, just go out there and have fun. They really rose to the occasion.”
Her doubles teams in particular stepped up in a big way.
Manteca’s Rav Dhillon and Navina Mann continued their undefeated streak with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Alejandra Pacheco and Krista Harris. The No. 2 tandem of Julianne Eavenson and Noeli Mercado dispatched Alyssa Patterson and Louisa Hunter, 6-1, 6-3. Monica Lozano and Prerna Singh swept Natlie Rootsaert and Diana Duenas, 6-0, 6-4.
“I figured it would come down to doubles but it didn’t quite happen for us,” Sierra coach Ed Melfort said. “Credit to (Manteca), they came out and played hard. We’ll learn from this.”
Not surprisingly, his Sierra’s only points came from No. 1 singles players Kaitlin Rausa and Claire Banks. Rausa topped Taylor Corona 6-0, 6-4, and Banks defeated Koryn Menasco 6-3, 6-1 in what was her toughest match of the season.
“I thought Taylor and Koryn played some of the best tennis I’ve seen them play,” Tolbert said. “They kept their 1 and 2 out there than they’re probably used to.”
The best match was between sophomore Julia Tang and Sierra freshman Nadia Petrovic at No. 3 singles. The longest match of the day was also the last to end, with Tang outlasting her counterpart 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 10-5. Tang trailed 4-1 in the opening set.
“Julia’s tough,” Tolbert said.
The rest of Manteca’s singles ladder recorded routine victories: Stephanie Mercado beat Katarina Malabanan 6-4, 6-1, Gladis Sandoval beat Carly Cunial 6-1, 6-0 and Makenna Condit took down Sydney Huynh, 6-2, 6-1.
Although disappointed with the loss, Melfort has a contender on his hands in just his second year as Sierra’s coach. The Timberwolves, now 8-2, haven’t won a league title since 2002 and twice took second in 2010 and 2012, but they otherwise haven’t been competitive. They’re currently on pace to seize one of three Sac-Joaquin Section Division III postseason berths with a big match at third-place Oakdale still ahead.
“This is good experience for them,” Melfort said of his young team, which consists of two promising freshmen (Rausa and Petrovic). “They’re not used to this kind of environment. For a while Sierra tennis has been out of (the playoff hunt) by now and right now we’re fighting for the No. 2 spot. Anything can happen once you get to the playoffs, and that’s our goal right now is to get there. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see them again.”
Central Catholic 9,
At Lathrop, No. 1 singles player Kimberly Victoria (4-6, 3-6) and No. 3 Eden Baca (7-5, 2-6, 7-10) were competitive in losses to Alysssa McPhee and Katie Minato, respectively. Central Catholic lost just 11 games in all other matches combined.