VISALIA — Lemoore coach Carla Bow and her doubles team took in a big embrace after a long day of tennis. The hug was warranted because after all, they had just become champions.
After three tough matches, the doubles team of Madison Kuntz and Lizeth Garcia defeated the Redwood team of Maddie Adams and Helen Webb to emerge as the West Yosemite League doubles champions on Friday at Mt. Whitney High School.
“I couldn’t describe it, it’s just like all these emotions, but happiness most of all that I got to win with Maddie,” Garcia said. “We play soccer together as well, so winning something in tennis with her, it’s a great feeling.”
Kuntz and Garcia won 6-3, 6-2 and, at times, made it look easy, but there was nothing easy at the WYL championships. Kuntz and Garcia won their first match 8-2 and earned a hard fought 8-4 victory in the semifinals to get to the championship round.
“I’m so exhausted,” Kuntz said after a long exhale. “I’m really proud of me and Lizeth. We did really well and I couldn’t ask for a better partner.”
Despite taking the championship in straight sets, the duo did not get off to the start they wanted and for a minute, it seemed like maybe it wouldn’t be their day.
Trailing 3-1 in the first set, Kuntz and Garcia — the No. 1 seed — got behind by making small mental mistakes. They tried to overpower shots leading to some balls out of play, misplayed a couple returns and shanked a couple smashes into the net.
Kuntz and Garcia were Lemoore’s No. 1 and No. 2 singles players throughout the season and hadn’t lost a match when paired together. Well, it wasn’t going to happen on Friday either.
“After the [deficit] we talked to coach and she told us that we just had to take it one point at a time and this was it and we came so far we couldn’t just lose here,” Garcia said. “I told [Kuntz] we had to step it up if we wanted to win.”
The message resonated as the doubles partners rallied to win five straight games and take the first set. And once they hit their stride, you might as well have called match — because it was over.
“Once they started on that roll, they just get in that focus and make it happen,” Bow said.
And focus they did. The girls attacked the ball early in their second set and were in a deadly rhythm. It was either Garcia putting a ball down the middle of the court for a point or it was Kuntz with a smash at the net that had no chance of a return.
Kuntz’s extraordinary net play coupled with Garcia’s well-placed balls had the girls leading 4-0 in the second set. Redwood countered by fighting hard to take the next two games, but the Lemoore duo gave them no more after that and took home the championship.
“It feels great to beat [Redwood],” Kuntz said. “It’s just a big stress relief. It feels amazing.”
It was like poetry in motion to see the two Tigers working together so effortlessly. The humble Kuntz and Garcia shared a small fist pump after championship point, but had well-deserved smiles from ear to ear.
“Super proud of them,” a grinning Bow said. “They did what I expected and then a little bit more.”
For Lemoore’s other girls, player Lizbeth Flores finished fourth out of 12 girls in the singles bracket. She defeated Hanford’s Kaylee Bristol 8-6 and followed that up with an 8-4 win over Mt. Whitney’s Rona Donato.
Flores dropped her third match to eventual singles champion Claire Yang from Redwood 8-0 and lost her third place match 8-0. Her fourth place finish means she automatically qualifies for area playoffs.
Lemoore also had senior Jolene Simas in the singles bracket, who defeated Hanford West’s Andrea Cuevas 8-3 in her first match. Simas lost her next two matches 8-0 and 8-3 to finish her day.
Hanford had Bristol lose a close, tough match in the first round, but also had the doubles team of McKennah Miller and Emily Reinhart.
Miller and Reinhart defeated Mt. Whitney’s doubles team in the first round 8-3 before running into Kuntz and Garcia in the second round where they lost 8-2. The pair put up a good fight in the consolation bracket against El Diamante, but in the end fell 8-5.
“I really saw a different side of them today,” Hanford coach Alex Ibarra said. “I don’t ask for anything else other than to give me 100 percent every single time and they did.”
Hanford West brought Cuevas as their singles player and the doubles team of Savanna Shaw and Jordyn LeGassick. Both Cuevas and the doubles team bowed out in the first round of play, but Huskies coach Randy Guevara could not have been any more proud.
“We’re looking forward to tomorrow and building on this process,” Guevara said. “I’m real proud of the girls this season if you look at the fact that a lot of them are brand new. Look at them now holding their own against other teams.”
The WYL championships concluded with the awarding of medals to first, second and third place doubles. Kuntz and Garcia took home the actual bracket for winning and posed with it for pictures.
The whole Lemoore team then took pictures with family, teammates and coaches after an excellent playoff performance.
The Tigers will now get ready for team playoffs. Those brackets will be released next Monday, but for now, the team’s going to celebrate.
“We’re going to go to Red Robin, which is what we always do,” Bow said. “Yum.”
Yum indeed because victory must taste sweet.