BY STEPHEN LYNCH Special to The Californian
Kaleb Johnson is his own toughest critic when it comes to his tennis game. But even Johnson is hard-pressed to find fault with how well he played and all he accomplished during his freshman campaign.
The East High standout posted a 24-2 singles record and lost one doubles match the entire year.
Johnson, the BVarsity Boys Tennis Player of the Year, made it all the way to Central Section singles final, losing to Clovis North's Daly Meinert.
"I was pretty impressed with how I played because I didn't practice too much preseason" Johnson said. "So I was pretty happy with how well I played, getting a win against Dylan (Simonson of Garces) and making to the finals in Valley."
The Stockdale tandem of Andrew Schwartz and Nizam Khan, who won the Southwest Yosemite League doubles title and reached the quarterfinals of the Central Section tournament, is the Doubles Team of the Year.
Johnson, the younger brother of two-time Central Section singles runner-up and three-time Player of the Year D.J. Johnson, came into his freshman season with several goals in mind.
The two most prominent ones were going undefeated at home, something his brother did his entire four-year career at East, and winning a section singles championship.
Despite narrowly falling short on both counts Johnson had a stellar season, winning the South Yosemite League singles title and dominating most of his opponents.
His only regular-season loss came at the hands of Simonson, one of his best friends.
Johnson went 1-1 against the talented Garces freshman, helping him earn the top seed for the section tournament.
"Most of my goals were to just do better than my brother," Johnson said. "I did better than I expected this year. I don't really know how well I thought I was going to do. I just kind of went with how the season went."
Johnson's success can be attributed to top-notch tennis skillset and a strong mental game, which includes a desire to win at all costs.
"He's a tenacious competitor," East coach Chris Colvin said. "He never gives up on a point. He slides like he's on a clay court. His shoes are always squeaking."
According to Johnson the highlight of his season was his win against Simonson.
"We're kind of like longtime rivals," Johnson said. "(Since) the high school season ended we've played each other 12 times in Southern Cal and local tournaments."
Johnson and Simonson were hoping to face each other in the section final.
But Meinert had different plans, knocking off Simonson in the semifinals before taking down Johnson, 6-0, 6-0 to win the tournament.
"I was disappointed that I didn't play as well as I thought I could," Johnson said. "I had a close three-set semifinal match and was pretty sore in the final, but I still thought I could have done better in that match."
Fortunately for Johnson, he still has three more cracks at one-upping his brother and winning an elusive Valley singles title.
That goal is going to be made even tougher next year, as Johnson plans to run track while simultaneously competing in tennis.
"It pretty important that I win a Valley title," Johnson said. "I want to win at least one. My brother won a team championship but he never won an (individual) one, so if even if I don't win the team part, if I win Valley it's kind of even."