BY STEPHEN LYNCH Special to The Californian
VISALIA -- Gracie Jacobs, Crimson Hochhalter, and Riley Tucker stood side-by-side, holding their first-place medals and posing for pictures.
The trio was all smiles after making it a Garces High clean-sweep of the Central Section Girls Individual Tennis Championships on Saturday at Visalia-Redwood High.
Jacobs capped a brilliant high school career by defeating second-seeded Megan Lee of Clovis-Buchanan 6-1, 6-0 to win the section singles title.
Hochhalter and Tucker took home the doubles crown with a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Fresno-Bullard's Zoey Vargas and Chelsey Ruiz.
"Unbelievable," Garces coach Barb Johnston said. "The kids played really well today. I'm really proud of them."
Jacobs, the tournament's top seed and heavy favorite, dominated Lee from start to finish.
"I'm just real excited because I've waited since my freshman year to do this," Jacobs said. "I'm just real excited that I finally won."
Using a rapacious approach, Jacobs moved her challenger all over the court with an array of blistering forehands and perfectly placed backhands.
Lee, who narrowly out-lasted No. 11 Monica Sanchez 5-7, 6-0, 6-2 in a nearly three hour semifinal, quickly wilted under the pressure of Jacob’s all-out attack.
“The key was just staying aggressive and not play playing passively and just hitting the ball hard and do what I do,” Jacobs said.
Hochhalter and Tucker also lived up to their No. 1 seeding. The duo played nearly flawless in taking the first set with ease. Then after losing the first game of the second set, they quickly won four games in a row with a strong mix of hard baseline shots and close-to-the net volleys.
“To execute like that just felt so good,” Hochhalter said. “That was the best we played all year … We just went out there wanting to win every single point and not giving them a chance to win.”
“We were just so excited,” Tucker said. “We were going to take this today and we did. It’s great.”
The doubles competition started on Saturday amidst controversy.
Stockdale’s second-seeded tandem of Prutha Metha and Claire Heffernan were disqualified from their semifinal against Vargas and Ruiz before the match even started.
That’s because Metha arrived 31 minutes late from the scheduled start of the match after spending the morning in Bakersfield doing SAT testing.
“We have the rules that are posted on the website for default times,” tournament director Rosemarie Lewis said. “It was just unfortunate. We are governed by USTA rules and they are very clear on the minute-by-minute rules for being late.”
Lewis said she had no choice in the matter.
“We don’t make the rules,” she said. “We’re just here to enforce them.”
Metha, who showed up just one minute after the match was called, was extremely upset with the decision.
“My match was scheduled for (noon) but today is a Saturday and it’s an SAT date as well as an ACT date,” Metha said. “They had no problem moving the times for the area tournament last week to 1 p.m. Everyone made it. The number one seed in the valley for singles was able to make it. We’re the number two seed for doubles and he couldn’t push the time just by 20 minutes for us. Had they, we would be able to play a fair match.”
Bullard coach Daren Carter said that argument didn’t have much merit since the semifinals, which were originally scheduled for 10 a.m., were already pushed back to a noon starting time to accommodate competitors with SAT testing.
“I had to sit two of my players out of the tournament because of the test,” he said.
Metha and Heffernan rebounded from the setback to take third place by beating Clovis North’s Charmaine Ramirez and Ashley Winslow 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Jacobs, the section’s singles runner-up the past two years, didn’t lose a match all year (32-0 singles and 12-0 doubles).
“She worked hard and she played well,” Johnston said. “It’s sometimes hard when everybody expects you to win and then you have to get out there and win. Sometimes that puts a little extra pressure on you, but she stepped up every time this year.”
Jacobs came into Saturday’s action having beaten Lee (27-6) previously 6-0, 6-0 during the Lewis Cup.
Jacobs throttled everyone she faced during the two-day event, losing just five games total in four matches.
“The whole season I just tried to stay aggressive and play my game and not give in to what other people were doing,” Jacobs said. “It was a really great season. And it was a really great note to end my last match on.”
Hochhalter and Tucker faced a bit more resistance but were still impressive in their march through the doubles draw.
“It feels so good,” Hochhalter said. “Third place last year. First place this year. Senior year. It’s the best way to go out.”
Hochhalter and Tucker reached the doubles final by knocking off Ramirez and Ashley Winslow 6-2, 6-4.
Fourth-seeded Eryn Piearcy of Clovis West defeated Sanchez 6-3, 6-0 in the singles third-place match.