STOCKTON – Riding the coattails of one of the best singles players in the Sac-Joaquin Section and relying on good depth throughout the lineup, the Vista del Lago girls’ tennis team finished its season in grand fashion Tuesday, winning the Division IV section title 5-4 over Sierra-Manteca.
It was the Eagles’ first section title in tennis.
“I’m really thrilled for the girls,” Vista coach Marc Erwin said. “They put in the work all year to make sure this dream would become a reality.”
As she did all season, Sofia Smith led the Eagles (14-8) to victory. She won 6-2, 6-4 over Kaitlyn Rausa, who hadn’t dropped a match in non-tournament play all season.
Smith, a sophomore who posted a 21-5 record this season and won the Capital Athletic League singles title before advancing to the individual section semifinals, matured a lot after her freshman year.
“I improved a lot from last year as a player and competitor,” Smith said. “I’m more confident on the court and able to bring that to every match.”
She looked like she was going to breeze through her match when she took a 5-1 lead in the second set, but Rausa rallied.
“The first set was pretty good,” Smith said. “The second set, I was up 5-1 and then started making mistakes. She got to 5-4 and I almost had a mental breakdown, but then I was able to pull it off in the end.”
Smith gave the Eagles the third of the five victories they needed to clinch it. Sophomore Alex Elmhurst at No. 5 singles (6-3, 6-2) and senior Regan Martell at No. 6 singles (6-4, 6-2) quickly dispatched their opponents for the first two wins.
Playing an extremely fast three-setter, the No. 2 doubles team of junior Camila Wyatt and sophomore Brooke Van Buskirk gave the Eagles their fourth win in a 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 victory.
Unlike the drama the Eagles provided last week in the semifinals against Vanden-Fairfield, which also was a 5-4 decision but came down to the very last match, Vista clinched it when sophomore Sydnee Tan won at No. 4 singles 7-5, 6-2 over Melanie Nguyen. That gave the Eagles an insurmountable 5-1 lead.
“It’s appropriate that Sofia and Sydnee were such a big part of this championship,” Erwin said. “Sofia gets a lot of the accolades, and deservedly so, but Sydnee has been our secret weapon. She played a lot of close, stressful matches this season, and her mental toughness helped her win almost every single one of them.”
Tan finished the season 18-4, including the Capital Athletic League friendship tournament title, which pits the Nos. 4-5-6 singles players from each school against each other.
Even in three of the losses Tuesday, the Eagles were in position to win. Ashley Allen fell at No. 2 in three sets, and the doubles team of Sara Howlett and Taylor Escamilla had two match points in their third set before succumbing. The heroes of the semifinal, No. 3 doubles tandem Ellie Nguyen and Sophia Ammons, were right there but lost 7-5, 7-6 (7-4).
Now Erwin has to keep his word on a deal he made with the team at the beginning of the playoffs.
“I told the team that if we won the whole thing, they could do whatever they wanted to me as long as it wasn’t permanent – no tattoos or anything like that,” Erwin said. “I have a feeling I’m going to have a lot less hair really soon. And whatever’s left on my head is probably going to be a different color.”