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Grizzly tennis moves into uncharted territory
Granite Hills doesn’t get too many chances to celebrate many historic victories in being the smallest school in the EYL.
But after a second-place finish in the league, the second-seeded Grizzlies, after their second playoff win — a 6-3 toppling of No. 3 Wasco in the Division IV semifinals — are in position to do what no other Grizzly squad has ever done in the 10-year history of the school: win a Valley championship.
Granite, just the fifth team in any school sport and the first tennis group to advance this far, again took a 4-2 lead into the doubles round.
Wasco’s top pair of Hailey Mehlberg and Araceli Archuleta got a 6-3, 6-3 win over Granite’s top duo, Sarah Herrera and Caitlin Jetter, and now had to hope their teammates could carry them into the finals.
But both had a long way to go after ceding their first sets to Granite’s teams.
The Grizzlies’ No. 2 tandem of Bailey Ward and Mai Lor were a point away from sending the Tigers home, but the No. 3 team beat them to it. Sophomore Sheng Lor and freshman Lisa Yang edged the Tigers’ No. 3 team 6-4, 6-2 just minutes before Ward and Lor did the same to Miranda Medrano and Angie Alonso (6-2, 6-3).
Shortly after the youngsters’ victory, coach Randy Smee had each of his players sign the official score sheet — written on notebook paper — to commemorate the program’s first-ever section championship appearance.
“That’s been the motivation for them all year. ‘What can we do (that will leave a legacy). When we come back to Porterville, we can point to and say that’s what we did,’” Smee said. “They’ve held onto that. We really didn’t start thinking about that until the second half when we started playing better. That said, ‘You know what? We can leave a mark.’ That’s been a real, real big thing. I think that’s gonna stay with them for the rest of their lives, really.”
Lor, who is the only junior out of Granite’s top quartet, said the team thought getting to the finals was possible this summer when she, Herrera, Jetter and Ward all returned from the 2008 playoff season.
“(I’m) super excited, it feels so great!” she said of being on the first team that’s advanced this far. “(At) the beginning of the year when we got all our top four back, I was like, ‘We have a chance.’”
Jetter won her second straight No. 2 singles playoff match, beating Archuleta 6-1, 6-3 while Herrera couldn’t hold onto leads in both sets, falling 6-4, 6-4 to Mehlberg. Lor cruised past Medrano 6-1, 6-3 while Ward lost in three sets to Edith Becera, 6-4, 4-6 (6-10).
Granite’s No. 5 and 6 players, senior Maira Zavala and sophomore Kelsey Blackburn, joined Jetter and Lor on the winning side and put another opponent in the 4-2 hole.
“It takes a lot of pressure off,” Smee said of the singles advantage. “Everybody doesn’t feel like they have to win when they go to their doubles (match) and all my girls played well within themselves. The pressure was on Wasco to win them all.”
Lor, whose doubles team is the only Granite pair to win both playoff matches, disagrees.
“Not really because we have to win still,” she said of playing doubles with a lead. “It’s less pressure but still, there’s pressure.”
Tuesday, Granite will face the winner of the 1-4 matchup: Immanuel vs. Exeter (14-2) and likely will have to go through the Eagles, Division IV’s tennis power, for the title. The Eagles knocked the Grizzlies out of the 2008 playoffs, shutting them out 9-0, and don’t look to be a much easier foe this time around either.
“They don’t have many weaknesses,” he said. “Last year, we won four of the first six sets. We were in the match, but we didn’t know how to finish. So maybe if that happens this year, we’re a little farther along. Maybe we can compete.
“It’s one of those deals where we know what we’re up against and I think the girls aren’t gonna feel pressured by that. They know that they’ve achieved their primary goal so the pressure’s all on Immanuel. They have nothing to lose, they’ve had a great season.”