Tennis season is already in full swing in the Valley. Turlock, Pitman, Delhi, Denair, and Turlock Christian High have been hitting the courts, some new and some old, on a quest to dole out defeat to their respective league opponents and make a run at the post-season.
Last season Pitman dominated its Central California Conference schedule, finishing with an undefeated record and its 7th CCC title in school history. Things are different for the Pride this year, though, as they not only said goodbye to nine players but to their longtime coach Jeff Hayes as well. In his stead stands Doug Reimers, current girls tennis head coach and first time boys tennis head coach.
“We had nine boys graduate last year so we have a lot of talented young men on the team, but they lack experience,” Reimers said. “They can hit the ball really well, they have great strokes, but they are learning how to win points.”
With its experience all but gone, Pitman will turn to singles players like Bronil Azof, Jeremy Moitoso, and Amir Ebrahimi to produce results on the court. As for their doubles, the Pride have Angel Garcia, Jason Moore, and Matt Garza on tap to net wins.
“Almost everybody is changing; everybody’s coming up,” Reimers said of his ladder.
Though they have talent, Pitman is virtually untested in competition save for a few pre-season matches and is likely to experience some growing pains in the beginning of CCC play.
“I expect that at the beginning of the season we could experience some rough matches, some close matches, but I hope that they will get stronger as they get more experience,” Reimers said.
On the other side of town, Turlock is breaking in its brand new tennis facility with a deep pool of players. With a combination of youth and experience, the Bulldogs are setting their sights on a CCC title.
“I think we have more depth than a lot of teams,” Turlock’s head coach Juan Alaniz said. “We’ve been nothing less than second place the last few years, so we’re hoping to compete for a championship.”
Jordan Bean, Aldair Lima, and Ricardo Lopez are back with rackets in hand for Turlock in its attempt to even the score with the Pride who dealt the Bulldogs their only two league losses a year ago. Alan Trelles and Daniel Saldana—active tennis enthusiasts and first year high school players—are also expected to aid in the effort.
“They decided they’d come out this year and they’ve been a real blessing,” Alaniz said of the two.
Local tennis pro Bill Weber is also a new addition to Turlock, serving as an assistant coach and helping some of the more inexperienced players develop their game.
Turlock hosts Merced High and Pitman travels to Buhach Colony High Thursday for the beginning of CCC play.
While the CCC gets ready to start its season, the Southern Athletic League is already a couple matches into its schedule.
Delhi High, last year’s second place team in the SAL, has returned with a mixed bag for 2013. The Hawks lost all of its starting boys but have retained nearly all of its starting girls from last season. Brisia Gutierrez, Maya Garcia, Tanya Tafolla, Lauren Nightingale, and Anna Gonzalez constitute and experienced core for Delhi while Alfredo Vasquez, Jesus Gonzalez, and Alfredo Hernandez lead a raw boys squad into competition.
“It’s kind of a green squad,” Delhi’s head coach Filipe Espino said. “They’re good players but they don’t have that starter mind set yet.”
The Hawks defeated TC, 9-0, in the first SAL match of the year only to fall to Denair for the first time, 4-5, on Friday.
“We can still reach our goals but it’s going to be a harder road,” Espino said.
Delhi’s loss not only reflects its inexperience but also the progress of Denair’s tennis program.
Having lost only one senior from last season’s team, the Coyotes are standing a little bit taller with experienced players like Brian Dudley and Ryan Ottis on the boys side and Alex Knapp and Jessica Pombo on the girls side.
“We were able to get one past them which was a goal of ours to gauge our improvement,” Denair’s head coach Paul Michaelis said of the victory over Delhi.
In addition to beating the Hawks, Denair has also defeated Gustine High, putting last season’s third place SAL team atop the league standing with an undefeated record.
“We’d really like to go to playoffs again,” Michaelis said. “And as far as the league, I’d like to win some more matches. I think we left a lot on the court last year.”
At the same time that Denair and Delhi are competing for top standings in the SAL, TC is striving for growth and progress with its still new tennis program. Former California State University, Stanislaus men’s and women’s tennis coach Jack Schneider has been brought in this year to help with the development, and while the transition has been different, steps have already been taken towards the team’s goal.
“I went from coaching four-time all Americans to teaching kids how to hold a tennis racquet,” Schneider said with a laugh. “I got four or five kids who are just learning how to play and I have a couple that have played for a while but they don’t have a lot of tournament experience.”
Ten Eagles comprise TC’s team, three of which are boys, meaning that forfeits have been a regular occurrence so far. But with an athletic Eric Amaya— who nearly beat Delhi’s number one singles player despite having played tennis for only a few weeks— and the tall Savannah Swanson on board, TC plans on setting a foundation of winning of which it can build upon.
“We want to make sure that by the end of the season all the kids know how to play doubles and understand the strategies,” Schneider said. “It’s about the process.”