Nearly a year after the Pitman High varsity boys tennis season was cancelled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the team returned to the court on Thursday for their first league matchup against Downey High.
While the Pride ultimately fell short to the Knights 7-2, head coach Jeff Hayes was happy to see the students playing again — especially on such short notice. Along with cross country, swim and girls golf, boys tennis received word earlier this month that they could begin practicing as part of the Central California Athletic League’s Season One after COVID had sidelined all athletic competition for 11 months.
The Pride was scheduled to play in their first match against Modesto High on Tuesday, but the game was postponed because the other team did not have enough athletes cleared to play. During Tuesday’s match against Downey, the Pride was also missing two students who had not completed the required COVID athlete training.
Despite the new regulations, which saw tennis players required to wear masks during the match and keep bottles of hand sanitizer on each court, Hayes said morale was high.
“Kids are excited to be out of their bedrooms and out here to play. Win or lose in a match, that’s not really why we’re here this season. We’re out here to have fun and enjoy individual competition, and even that is going to be a struggle because none of these kids are playing to their potential yet since we’ve only been out here two weeks,” Hayes said. “We’re pretty sure we’re going to be able to finish out our season...it’s time to roll with it and have fun with the time that we have.”
With playoffs and championship tournaments cancelled for all teams playing in the Sac-Joaquin Section, the Pride won’t be able to avenge their semifinal loss in the 2019 Division-II SJS playoffs. With a young team this season, Hayes said his focus is preparing his players for a normal return to sports next year.
“Having no playoffs and having no tournament, I feel bad for my seniors who are missing out on that but it’s refreshing because it puts the focus of the entire season on kids out here having fun,” he said. “Looking at this season we obviously want to compete, but I’m almost looking at it as a preseason for next year and just enjoying the normalcy of getting out of the house and being able to play.”
Hayes expects the Pride to be led by No. 1 singles player Marcos Mendoza, who won his match on Thursday in straight sets, 6-3 and 6-2.
“I do expect Marcos to be up there as a top player. He’s our number one,” Hayes said. “He’s a strong player, but there are quite a few strong number one players in this league. It will be fun to see him rise to that challenge.”
No. 2 singles player Trey Bucheli earned the Pride its other match victory, but the Knights’ earned seven victories which all came in straight sets.
“Playing a tennis match with a mask on is cumbersome…. but right now, we’re rolling with what the mitigation regulations are,” Hayes said. “If this is what we have to do to come out here and play, we can handle it.”
Following the loss, Pitman is now 0-1 in CCAL play and will take on Turlock High next Tuesday at 3 p.m. The match will be the first home competition for the Bulldogs, who are 1-1 after defeating Enochs High 6-3 and losing to Gregori High 3-6 this week.