FIREBAUGH – The Kingsburg High girls tennis team overcame a long trip, a stubborn opponent and injury to make history Oct. 7.
The ninth-seeded Vikings defeated the No. 2-seeded Eagles 6-3 in the Central Section Division V title match, nabbing the first girls Valley tennis title in school history. Valley and section, in area parlance, are synonymous.
“I feel really good,” said Kingsburg No. 2 singles player Zoe Van Buerden following her 6-1, 6-1 victory. “We have the best coaches. They have a strategy; we’re not just out there hitting random shots. There’s a game plan.”
Kingsburg, on its march to the title match, defeated No. 1 seed Dos Palos 7-2 and No. 13 Caruthers 6-3. Firebaugh was no easy touch, but down the Eagles went as well, as the Vikings (11-7) celebrated.
It was a grand way for the school to begin its day of girls athletics, which also saw the water polo and volleyball teams roll to victories.
“It’s pretty great,” said Viking No. 1 singles player Lana Drincic, who prevailed in her match 6-2, 6-4. “Our coaches were a lot better this year. They taught us a more sophisticated way to hit and it works better. Firebaugh was pretty feisty, but we just made shots.”
The Vikings’ aim is true, it seems, on the court or in the classroom, said Dijana Drincic, the mother of Lana.
“These are the best girls you’ll ever find,” said Dijana who emigrated here with her husband from Serbia. “They’re such a good group. They're hard-working and have fun. They’re smart too – all of them have (grade point averages) above 4.0.”
Dijana Drincic’s scholastic claim could not immediately be verified. What was apparent was the Vikings’ form and execution. Their forehands and backhands mostly traveled low and bit the court with ample topspin, taught by first-year coach Tom Gramza and his son Luke Gramza.
“At the start of the season just getting the ball over the net was the goal,” said Madelyn (Mad Dog) Gunland. “Now we’re using topspin and that really helps. We have more control.”
It took Gunland about two months to make the transition, from lolly pops to lasers, which she did in part by taking private lessons from Luke Gramza, the Viking assistant on crutches who has been hobbled by a soccer injury all season. The mishap did not hinder Luke’s coaching ability as he and his father had frequent huddles with players during change-overs to convey small tips.
“We have good coaches and they’ve made these girls shine,” said Sara Crahn, the mother of Gunland, who watched the match with Madelyn’s step-father, Jeremy Crahn. “They had talent last year, but not enough direction. This year they’re just shining.”
Case in point was No. 6 singles player Emma Stahl; she managed a marathon 6-7 (4-6), 7-5 (10-7) win in a match that lasted two hours.
Throughout this glory-filled season, the Vikings also became close off the court. They began “Viking Sisters,” a team-bonding program in which the players drew the name of a teammate from a hat, then did kind gestures for each other such as deliver treats to one another at school.
“It was nice,” Sara Crahn said. “It created a bond.”
Hey, it beats the heck out of hazing.
In time, a young group of girls grew from, in some cases, timid players with undeveloped strokes into confident shot-makers.
“Sometimes Madelyn likes to stand in the middle of the court and hit the ball to one side or the other and not run very much,” her mother said. “Against Dos Palos she lost the first set and then started playing more aggressively and won the second. Then she became the Mad Dog in the tie-breaker and took over; it was like Rocky Balboa or something.”
Against Firebaugh, score it a technical knockout for the Vikings who could not be slowed by an ankle injury to Skylar Mattos, an officiating dust-up involving Raine Palomino, nor anyone Division V could throw at them.
"The improvements that coach Luke and I have seen from the first day of practice to this day have been amazing," Tom Gramza said. "Kingsburg should be very, very proud of how these young ladies have represented their town and high school. I could not be more proud of them.”
Kingsburg 6, Firebaugh 3
#1 Lana Drincic (K) d. Lisbeth Gasca (F) 6-2, 6-4
#2 Zoe Van Buerden (K) d. Denise Gonzalez (F) 6-1, 6-1
#3 Natalie Arias (F) d. Skyler Mattos (K) 4-6, 6-4, (10-8)
#4 Janet Avila (F) d. Raine Palomino (K) 4-6, 6-0, (10-2)
# 5 Madelyn Gunland (K) d. Wendy Cortez (F) 6-3, 6-3
#6 Emma Stahl (K) d. Maria Villareal (F) 6-7 (4-6), 7-5, (10-7)
#1 Lana Drincic/Zoe Van Buerden (K) d. Gasca/Arias (F) 6-0, 6-4
#2 Gonzalez/Avila (F) d. Raine Palomino/Madelyn Gunland (K) 6-2, 6-2
#3 Hannah Hjelm/Ekpreet Virk (K) d. Elizabeth Perez/Priscilla Roderiguez (F) 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, (11-9)