MERCED — Turlock High junior Natalia Lima entered this week’s Central California Conference Singles Tournament as an unseeded girls tennis player, which was ideal for her.
“Underestimation is my best friend,” she said.
With that attitude, she had an unexpected run through the tournament, knocking off the No. 1 seed — Pitman High’s Britney Leon — before losing a tough, three-set battle to Merced High’s Charlotte Sofranek, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, in the finals on a warm Thursday afternoon at Millennium Sports Club. Lima will use the loss as motivation, as she mentioned the hard work she plans to put in during the offseason.
“I did everything I could,” Lima said about her grueling match with Sofranek. “She just beat me. I wish I could have won.”
Lima’s tournament run, however, cannot be defined just by her final performance. It was also about how she got there. Before the tournament began, Lima said “someone” told her, “You’ll never beat Britney Leon.”
Yes, Leon was favored to win. Her top-seeded status was strong evidence that she would, as well as her league season performance. In fact, she was named the CCC MVP before the singles tournament began Tuesday morning. She also had beaten Sofranek in the regular season.
But Lima was determined to give it her all. Her quarterfinal match with Leon was epic, considering it took three difficult sets for Lima to escape with a 7-5, 0-6, 6-4 win.
“That was crazy,” Lima said. Leon is “a great player. She was hitting corner after corner with every shot. It was the hardest match on paper.”
“Playing Pitman is always a challenge,” Turlock coach Linda Bejaran added. The Pride “are our rivals, yet are a part of our district, which makes them like family. Then add to that, Leon was seated No. 1 and one word comes to mind: pressure. Natalia stayed calm, composed and stuck to her game plan, and because of that, she won big — upsetting the No. 1 seed.”
Lima continued on, handing Turlock teammate Jillian Temple — another unseeded player — a 6-0, 6-0 defeat. Temple ended up taking fourth.
Ashley Gomez, the Bulldogs’ No. 1 player in the regular season and second seed in the tournament, was eliminated in the first round.
Lima, who advanced to next month’s Sac-Joaquin Section Individual Tournament at Turlock’s Brenda Athletic Club, has set a new goal: She wants to top this year’s accomplishments.
“I expect to be out here next year,” she said, referring to reaching the league’s singles tournament title match. “Hopefully, I’ll win it next year.”
Lima and her Turlock teammates aren’t done yet. They have the playoffs, as the Bulldogs, the top seed in the CCC after consecutive league titles, will host Tracy High of the San Joaquin Athletic Association on Nov. 1 at 2 p.m. at the Turlock High tennis courts in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I Tournament.
Pitman will also participate in the playoffs, as the Pride will play on the road on Oct. 31 against a yet-to-be-determined team.
Pitman duo wins league’s doubles title
Pitman’s Leon, the CCC’s singles MVP, and teammate Preet Hayer battled through a long, hot day at Millennium Sports Club on Thursday to win the league’s doubles title. Their 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 win over Merced’s Lisa Rabago and Kari Johnson capped off the run.
Leon got some redemption after an early exit in singles tournament.
Also, Hayer won the tournament’s sportsmanship award.
Turlock’s Taylor Olson and Camille Stiles finished third in the doubles tournament.
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