Natalie Somers returns a shot in her No. 2 singles victory
One needed to only look at the back of the T-shirts worn by the Monta Vista girls’ tennis team to know exactly what host Burlingame was up against in its season opener Tuesday.
In the left-hand column were the years Monta Vista won the Central Coast Section championship: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2011. In the right-hand column were the years the Matadors won Northern California titles: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Needless to say, the Panthers had their hands full.
“Coach is crazy,” is how Burlingame coach Bill Smith responded to the question why schedule Monta Vista — and today’s opponent Menlo School, which might be even more accomplished than Monta Vista.
On a serious note, Smith said not only does it allow his players to see what top-notch competition looks like, but it also helps with power points at the end of the season when it comes to the CCS playoffs.
In the end, Monta Vista came away with a 8-1 victory in a match that featured four singles matches and five doubles matches, since it was a non-league match.
Despite the seemingly lopsided result, Smith was actually pleased with his team’s performance.
“I thought it would be a lot worse,” Smith said. “We got some moral victories.”
The Panthers even got an actual victory as No. 2 singles player Natalie Somers rallied from a one-set deficit to pull out a 6-7(5), 6-2, (13-11) win over Shwetha Bharadwaj.
The No. 1 doubles team of Lisa Patel and Haley Shaffer also managed to win a set, dropping a three-set decision to Jenna McGuirk and Nicole Stomakhin 6-2, 2-6, 6-3. The Panthers’ No. 5 doubles team of Pryia Patel and Megan Reilly won their second set to force Monta Vista’s Katherine Guo and Anushka Tyagi to play a third set in the Matadors’ 7-6(3), 3-6, (10-8) victory.
Smith’s biggest fear was getting completely swept away by the Matadors, thus preventing him from getting a true evaluation of his team. He believes the Panthers may be a year away from challenging for the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division championship, but expects to be in the mix for one of the league playoff spots and a spot in CCS.
Smith said Hillsdale could be the team to beat this season. Rumors have it that the Knights have arguably the best player on the Peninsula back in the fold after she took a year off. Another newcomer may push reigning PAL tournament champion and Daily Journal Tennis Player of the Year Mariko Iinuma into the No. 3 singles spot. Smith also expects Menlo-Atherton and Aragon to also be battling for the league title, along with Carlmont.
In reality, this could be one of the more competitive Bay Division seasons the PAL has seen in quite some time.
One of the best singles players this season could be Burlingame’s Alex Harrigan. Although she lost in straight sets to Monta Vista’s Aiswarya Sankar 6-2, 6-3, Harrigan showed she has the power and all-around court game to be in the mix for the individual PAL title this season.
“Alex is a lot better player, but it’s not showing on the scorecard (against Sankar),” Smith said.
Harrigan definitely had the groundstrokes to play with Sankar, as well as deft net play. What did her in Tuesday was her inability to remain as consistent as Sankar. Too many unforced errors doomed Harrigan.
Despite the very real possibility of starting the season 0-2 — the Panthers have never beaten Menlo — Smith doesn’t believe it will have a detrimental affect on his team.
“In tennis, I don’t think getting beat up, I don’t think it destroys your will,” Smith said.