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A handful of top singles players combine to win a pair of SJS doubles tennis titles.   By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor  ...

A handful of top singles players combine to win a pair of SJS doubles tennis titles.

  By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor

  No one really plans to win a section doubles championship. But, strangely, this year’s Sac Joaquin Section Division I and II doubles finals went according to plan, and had a distinctly familiar feel.

  League rules dictate that most program’s top players compete in singles play, with teams typically filling out their No. 1 through 6 singles slots with their best six competitors. Those singles players cannot compete in league competition as part of a doubles team. But when the postseason arrives, programs can team up top players as doubles teams to compete for the section championship.

  Gregori-Modesto sophomore Madison McKay got paired up with Katherine Rodriguez for the section tournament and concluded her season with a Division I section doubles title. When the 2014 season started, McKay hit the court to prove her worth as one of the Jaguars’ top singles players and entered the Modesto Metro Conference tournament singles bracket. A first-round loss eliminated her from continuing on in the postseason on her own, but provided a second chance for her to compete as part of a doubles team with the junior Rodriguez.

  “I rolled my ankle in the middle of the season and missed some time before coming back and trying to compete in singles in the (league) tournament,” McKay said. “After I lost in the first round, I was excited that I was getting paired up with Katherine.”

  “Our games really complement each other because I am good at the net and she is good hitting on the back line.”

  The duo found success and chemistry in winning the MMC doubles title, and rolled to the section championship without losing a set. In the final, McKay and Rodriguez defeated Rocklin’s Naveena Attoto and Anna Bothe 6-2, 6-1. It was McKay’s and Gregori’s second consecutive SJS Div. I doubles title, but there is no guarantee that the Jaguars’ duo will be teamed together in 2015 to defend the championship.

  McKay and Rodriguez celebrate a point during the Div. I final.For Rodriguez, playing tennis this year for Gregori was not guaranteed, and the resulting success in doubles was a pleasant surprise for the former junior circuit star. Weary of the grind of junior tennis, Rodriguez took to the high school game with the hope of rediscovering joy on the court.

  “I just wanted to have fun,” Rodriguez said of getting back into the sport. “I was really surprised by how it turned out, and I did have a really fun time playing with Madison.”

  Pairing up a team’s No. 1 and No. 2 singles players can lead to more stress than fun in many cases. The chemistry of doubles teams trump top individual talent because the game and strategies are much different when players share a side of the court.

  “Doubles is a different animal altogether,” Bella Vista coach Todd Cummings said. “A lot of singles players like to stay back and dictate play from the back line, but you need someone to dominate the net and put pressure on opponents with a more aggressive mindset.”

  Last year, Cummings’ Broncos captured the Div. II doubles championship with the sisters team of Kendall and Kaitlin Derry. But with the Derry sisters focused on cross country this season, the coach turned to his singles roster to contend for a repeat championship. 

  No. 1 singles player Sophie Taber and No. 3 Alana Easterbrook turned out to be the perfect match to give Bella Vista a second straight doubles crown.

  “Sophie hits the ball hard and flat and is more aggressive going to the net while Alana is a more consistent player that keeps the point alive from the back line,” Cummings said. “They fit well together, and we just said, ‘Let’s do it again.’”

  The Broncos’ duo of Chloe Cho and Sophie Coss repeated as Div. II section semifinalists. After losing to their teammates in the 2013 final, Cho and Cross fell in the semis to Rio Americano’s Sydney Komienic and Jenna Kotal.

  In singles play, Oakmont’s Denise Arendain suffered the cruel fate of finishing as the Div. II runner-up for a second consecutive year. Neha Gupta from Cosumnes Oaks downed the top seed 6-2, 6-1 to win the championship. 

  In the Div. I singles championship, Franklin-Elk Grove freshman Jacquie Tan lived up to her top seeding by rolling through the two-day competition without dropping a single set. Tan overpowered Madeline Almeida of Oak Ridge 6-3, 6-2 in the final.

Bella Vista's Div. II champion doubles team, Alana Easterbrook, left, and Sophie Taber.

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