BY STEPHEN LYNCH Special to The Californian
It was a good day for the proverbial Goliaths of local high school girls tennis at Garces on Saturday.
The Central Section South Area Individual Championships went almost completely to form. All but one of the top four seeds in both singles and doubles earned an automatic spot in the Central Section Individual Championships on Friday and Saturday in Wasco.
In singles, Stockdale's Ariana Tilbury, Garces' Anastasia Drulias, Liberty's Isabella Busacca and Bakersfield High's Isabel Donaldson were the big winners.
Stockdale had three doubles teams, top-seeded Cara Kemp and Emily Horrigan, No. 3 Claire Heffernan and Carmen Chai, and Dipika Khullar and Veronica Renaker, go the distance.
Second-seeded Riley Tucker and Bridget Boylan of Garces were the only non-Stockdale doubles team to win all three of its matches during the two-day event.
Most of Saturday's action was one-sided. All 12 singles matches were decided in straight sets. In eight of them, the losing player won two games or less.
Khullar and Renaker were the only unseeded entry in the tournament to earn an automatic slot in the section championships. The pair ensured that when it knocked off No. 5 Lupita Lozano and Roxi Barbosa of Taft in the final match of the day.
Tilbury, the top-seeded singles player, defeated Taft's Taylon Erro 6-0, 6-1, before downing Frontier freshman Madison Swaney, 6-1, 6-3.
The Stockdale senior, who is likely to be the No. 1 seed for the section championships, had to rally from a 3-2 second-set deficit to sweep Swaney.
"I had to maintain my confidence and still go for shots, but play smarter because (Swaney) was playing really, really well," Tilbury said. "Really smart, too, so I just had to keep it in and move around."
Tilbury was one 24 singles players (along with 24 doubles teams) from Kern County slotted into the south area tournament's 32-player/team draws, with the eight seeded entries each receiving first round byes.
The brackets go only through the third round, stopping prior to the would-be semifinals and finals, leaving four "winners" in both singles and doubles.
That group will join the eight automatic qualifiers from the section's other two area tournaments along with a four wild cards to battle it out for Central Section supremacy.
Both Kemp and Horrigan (19-0) and Tucker and Boylan (20-0) are undefeated as doubles teams this year.
Last year, Tucker partnered with Crimson Hochhalter to win the section doubles title.
"We just work really well together as a team," Boylan said. "We haven't lost a match all year. We somehow always pull it out."
Tucker added, "Sometimes I get angry with her, but when she sets up the lob and I get the overhead that's usually when we shine.
Stockdale coach Dave Hillestead said he expects Kemp and Horrigan to receive the No. 1 seed for the section tournament.
The pair certainly looked the part Saturday. After winning their second-round match by default, they steamrolled Frontier's Amy White and Kaylee DeFrees, 6-0, 6-0.
"We're excited to go to Valley," Horrigan said. "We hope we'll do pretty well. There's going to be some tough competition, but we just have to play well and see what happens.'
Busacca, now a three-time section individual tournament qualifier, along with Donaldson were the only seniors to finish in the top eight of the singles draw.
"It feels nice to be guaranteed a spot in Valley," Busacca said.
She lost only one game during in her two matches Saturday.
"(The key was) just playing consistent and making sure to stay strong mentally," Busacca said.
Drulias, one of three freshman to reach the final round of singles play, improved her solo record to 28-2 by beating fellow freshman and South Sequoia League champion McKenzie Berkshire of Bakersfield Christian, 6-2, 6-1.
"I'm just thankful that I've been given the opportunity to play tennis because I love it," Drulias said. "I'm just really happy."