Two seasons, which began way back in February, will experience the ultimate high or low today as Lemoore and Sierra Pacific each vie for championships in the CIF Central Section tennis finals.
The juxtaposition of these two teams could not be any further apart when contrasting them closely together.
Sierra Pacific: the team with all the experience and success over the last three years. Not only are they making their third consecutive finals appearance, they’re the defending Division V champions. They were moved up to Division IV this year, but haven’t skipped a beat.
The Golden Bears also lost five seniors from last year’s championship team, but have only gotten better. The team is on the verge of an undefeated season. They’re currently sitting at 20-0 overall and finished 14-0 in the East Sequoia League.
What’s been the key to their great run? Sierra Pacific coach Michael Miya gave credit to the coaches by his side.
“You know you've got to give a lot of credit to my assistant coaches for them coming to practice every day and helping out the kids and working on the areas that they need work on,” Miya said. “Me, by myself, I wouldn’t have been able to do all the individual attention that the kids need to have a successful season.”
Miya, in his fourth year as head coach, knows what it would mean to not only himself, but for the boys to capture another championship.
“I think the kids realize it too that we’re on the cusp of something that they probably won’t ever see in their life,” Miya said.
The success has also brought the program to new heights. With a roster of 19 players this season, the interest list for incoming freshman currently has 13 names on it. If all decide to sign up, then Miya will actually have to cut players next year.
“Our program has been getting better every year,” Miya said. “This is probably the best team Sierra Pacific has fielded since the inception of the tennis program.”
The No. 1 seed Golden Bears took down No. 9 Kingsburg (9-0) and No. 4 Corcoran (7-2) to reach the championship game. Sierra Pacific will face No. 2 seed Roosevelt who defeated No. 7 Highland (6-3) and No. 3 Foothill (5-4) to reach the finals.
“The kids are ready and you try to make it like it’s just another game,” Miya said. “We went through this whole process last year and a lot of the kids know what to expect already. You go out there and give it your best and if we win, we win. As long as you give it your best, that’s all we could expect.”
The two teams battle each other today at Sierra Pacific High School at 3:30 p.m.
Lemoore: the newcomer to the championship game. Not only are they making their first appearance in the big game, but they’ll host the CIF Central Section Division III championship match at Lemoore High School.
“Basically, I’ve just told them, ‘You guys just go take care of it in singles like you’ve been doing. Play like you’ve been playing,’” Lemoore coach Carla Bow said.
The Tigers got to this point after finishing the West Yosemite League with an 11-2 record and in second place. Their record currently stands at 16-8 after they defeated Mt. Whitney (5-4) in the quarterfinals and Delano (7-2) in the semifinals.
It was a big breakthrough for the team after losing 6-3 in the semifinals last year to Central Valley Christian. But the planning for this season started after that tough loss.
“It started way back last year where we looked at this team and we scheduled a hard season gearing them … to get to [the championship] based on making it to semis last year,” Bow said.
On the prospect of bringing home the first central section title for Lemoore, Bow called it “huge.”
“You’re hanging on the wall,” Bow said. “You’re a champ. They can never take that away from you. No matter what happens later on you’re part of that team — and you’re the first.”
The 2-seeded Tigers get 4-seeded Yosemite in the finals. Yosemite defeated No. 5 Dinuba 7-2 and upset the 1-seed Taft 6-3.
“Like a lot of the other teams we faced, they’re strong in their top singles,” Bow said. “I think our depth has played a part as far as the wins go. It’s everybody contributing at every level.”
They’ll hope for that same depth, especially from her four top seniors in No. 1 Spencer Denney, No. 2 Collin Bresenio, No. 3 Earl Magno and No. 5 Matthew Crisci.
Her pregame message to the team will be simple.
“I’m proud of them, regardless,” Bow said. “The season that they’ve had, the time that they’ve put in, not even just this season, but previous seasons. The camaraderie they’ve developed and how they’ve done what I’ve asked them to do and that they leave it all out on the court.”
The Tigers begin their match against Yosemite today at 3:30 p.m.