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Vista tennis team wins first section title

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Vista del Lago senior tennis player Joewe Low enjoyed his high school career so much, he figured he’d make it last a little longer.

Up one set and leading 5-1 in the second set, Low wasted four match points before finally winning 6-0, 7-6 (7-3) in his final high school match. He also stalled long enough to win the fifth and clinching match, as the Eagles captured the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title Thursday over Central Catholic of Modesto.

The Eagles (14-4), top-seeded in the D-IV bracket, beat the seventh-seeded Raiders 8-1 at Laguna Creek Racquet Club in Elk Grove to bring home the banner. It was Vista’s first boys’ tennis title, in the same season the team won its first playoff match ever. The Eagles stormed through their bracket, winning its first two rounds 9-0 and 8-1.

“I’m so proud of this group,” Vista del Lago coach Marc Erwin said. “They really came together as a team and supported each other. In past years, when players finished their match, they’d sit around and talk or just take off. This year, when people finished playing, they were at other courts cheering on their teammates. Totally different dynamic, and it paid off big time.”

It was fitting that Low clinched the match. He has been a key part of the Eagles’ lineup since his freshman year and was elected team captain this year.

“I remember one particular match as a freshman when he had no energy whatsoever because he hadn’t eaten since lunch, and this kid who had no business being on the court with Joewe was actually beating him,” Erwin said. “Luckily, the baseball snack bar at Casa Roble was open, and I bought him a four-pack of Nutter Butters. He wolfed those down and didn’t lose a game the rest of the match. Needless to say, he prepares himself better now.”

Not that there weren’t tense moments in Thursday’s match. Low knew he had blown several opportunities against lefty Justin Traina and had to refocus.

“I took a deep breath before the tiebreaker, and I just decided to give it my all for my last match,” said Low, who improved to a perfect 4-0 in his playoff career.

He had plenty of support from his teammates. For the second match in a row, No. 2 Samyak Surti was the first player off the court after a 6-1, 6-1 victory over John Dunn. No. 1 Ian Ng quickly followed with a 6-0, 6-4 victory over Dane Juarez. No. 3 Sourav Vemulapalli took care of Will Lyons 6-0, 6-4, and the No. 3 doubles team of Sterling Hansen and Yutaka Ozeki beat Adrian Cuevos and Moises Nunez 6-2, 6-3 to make it 4-0 Vista. Siva Polavali and Charles Cao lost at No. 2 doubles before Low’s decisive victory.

The Eagles also went on to win in straight sets at Nos. 5 and 6 singles behind Jack Taylor and Deeraj Gurram, respectively. Jonathan Lam and Ved Narayan teamed up at No. 1 doubles to win in three sets and complete the match.

“I have to give a lot of credit to Central Catholic,” Erwin said. “They were all class and played with a lot of heart. The final match score doesn’t indicate it, but you can tell from the individual scores that even when they were down a set, they just kept fighting and never gave up. It’s a tribute to their character and their coaching.”

With this victory, the Eagles swept the Division IV tennis titles in the 2017-18 school year. The girls’ team beat Sierra of Manteca in the fall final.

“It means a lot, because it’s our first title ever,” Ng said. “I really enjoyed the season. It’s a big achievement with the boys and girls winning it the same year.”

Just like the girls, the boys finished second to Rio Americano in the Capital Athletic League. The Rio girls won the Division III title in the fall, and the Rio boys won the Division II title Tuesday. Amazingly, the CAL’s third-place team, Mira Loma, also won the boys’ Division III title Thursday, making it three section titles for one league.

“I never dreamed we could do this, especially not in the same year,” said Erwin, who coaches both Vista teams. “The girls’ win was such a pleasant surprise, and now we had the boys equal that. It’s a year I’ll never forget, and I hope all the kids cherish these titles the rest of their lives. It’s so hard to win it all, and I think that’ll sink in for them over time.”