KINGSBURG - The Vikings fell short of making a third-straight Valley championship appearance after losing 6-3 to the top-seeded Kerman Lions in the CIF Central Section Division IV semifinals on Thursday, Nov. 8.

After losing multiple girls from last year’s team due to gradation, the Vikings were headed for a rebuilding year, but Kingsburg overcame its departures by finishing the 2019 season at 12-6 overall and placing second in the Central Sequoia League at 9-3.

Vikings coach Tom Gramza said the girls played a “good solid season” and the league schedule was “great competition” for them.

“Their character has been outstanding and that’s always the best thing you look for,” Gramza said. “They’re honest, they work hard, they treat each other well, they respect the coaches, they respect everybody else, they respect the other player. They work hard and they have fun. That’s what you ask for.”

Before elimination, the 4-seeded Vikings had a first round bye and they dominated the No. 5 Woodlake Tigers 8-1 in the Division IV quarterfinals on Nov. 5.

“We had a lot of practice time before this because we were on a bye and sometimes that hurts you,” Gramza said about the quarterfinal win. “Teams would relax and not get up for it and they try to get into casual mode. We tried to really push them with hard practices and they responded. We had a great practice yesterday and it spilled over today.”

The Vikings officially clinched the win over the Lions in singles by going 5-1 with their only loss occurring in the No. 6 match. Every singles match concluded after two sets.

Top player Margaud Gales continued her phenomenal season by claiming a 6-0, 6-1 victory in the first match of the afternoon to be concluded. Gales, a foreign exchange student from France, was a player that catapulted the Vikings lineup this year. In team matches, Gales never dropped a set and went undefeated as a singles competitor.

On Saturday, Gales suffered her only loss of the season against Kylee Limpias of Garces Memorial at the CIF Central Section Individual Tournament at Garces Memorial High School. Gales, the tourney’s No. 11 seed, fell 3-6, 6-4, (3-6) to the 6-seeded player in the first round.

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Gramza said Gales a great addition to the team this season and her teammates welcomed her the moment she joined the team.

“It was makes a big difference in any team adding a player that good,” Gramza said. “The other girls really welcomed her and she’s a super nice girl, so they all get along great. We could mix doubles in all kinds of ways because everybody gets along. It’s not like Margaud is this stranger who is the No. 1 out of nowhere and there’s no resentment.”

In the quarterfinals, Vikings No. 2 Zoe Van Buerden followed Gales’ performance with a 7-5, 6-1 victory while No. 3 Hannah Hjelm came out on top 6-4, 6-1 and No. 4 Ekpreet Virk clinched a 6-3, 6-4 win. Katie Tikkanen earned a 6-2, 6-0 victory in the No. 5 match. Megan Stahl suffered a 2-6, 2-6 loss in the Vikings only defeat.

“As a team we played really strong today,” Virk said. “It wasn’t our best day, but we definitely brought it and I feel like our hard work this past week and yesterday has really paid off.”

As for doubles, Kingsburg maintained the same intensity by sweeping all three matches. Both head coaches agreed to play doubles in an eight game pro set. Gales and Hjelm teamed up as the No. 1 duo and earned an 8-3 victory. Van Buerden and Virk won 8-5 in the No. 2 match while Abby Jobe and Summer Mejia came on top 8-5 in the No. 3 matchup.

Despite falling short of the Division IV title match, Virk and Van Buerdan said the girls put together a great season in a year that had several question marks before it began.

“I’m so proud of us and we work so hard,” Virk said.

“I’m proud of us no matter what,” Van Buerden said.

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The reporter can be reached at 559-583-2413 or jmartinez@hanfordsentinel.com

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