The Sonora High School tennis team was just where they wanted to be last week — playing the No. 1 team in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section championships.
It was hot, with temperatures hovering near 80 at Johnson Ranch Racquet Club in Roseville.
Sonora, the No. 3 team, riding the wave of what’s become a turnaround season for their tennis program, facing the No. 1 powerhouse from Placer.
Before losing 7-2, the Wildcats kept their season of firsts going by picking up two wins in girls singles against a previously unbeaten team.
Placer has swept their opponents 9-0 the past two years at the Sac-Joaquin section championships.
Junior Kate Hovatter and Senior Haley Fiedler helped snap that streak.
“Kate and Haley did what they’ve been doing all year,” said coach Sam Segerstrom. “Right from the get go they got off to a strong start.”
Hovatter cruised to a 6-3, 6-3 win in No.1 singles.
Fiedler breezed to a 6-1, 6-4 win in No.2 singles.
“Tactically they moved their opponents well. They set up points by hitting cross-court shots and then down,” said Segerstrom.
The wins served as fitting follow-ups to their play in the individual section championship tournament earlier this month.
Fiedler placed third after beating two league champions. In the semifinal she played the No. 1 seed from Bear River, losing 5-7, 6-1.
“Haley had set points and was up 5-4,” said Segerstrom. “She was one point away from taking that first set. Just impressive.”
On her way to a fourth place finish, Hovatter beat a league champion from El Dorado, 6-4, 6-0.
“It was a match where Kate broke her will with consistent play,” said Segerstrom.
Her next foe was the West Campus league champion.
The match was a marathon three-setter that lasted more than three hours.
“The match had the attention of the entire tennis complex,” said Segerstrom.
While Hovatter ended up losing 6-3, 2-6, 6-7, she wore down the player who went on to lose in the finals.
The grueling match caused the West Campus player’s feet to blister badly enough to keep her out of the next tournament, said Segerstrom. Sonora then beat that team in the divisions, 8-1.
“You lost that battle but you won the war for our team,” Segerstrom told Hovatter later.
Despite losing in the finals, the Wildcats’ tennis program is back and prepared to continue this year’s high level of success, Segerstrom said.
“They were on the same level as an eight-time section championship team with a dominant program,” said Segerstrom. “What we hope is to learn from our loss. We saw the best. We know what we have to do get back.”
The Wildcats sent eight players to this year’s individual sections. Sending that many was another one of those firsts from Sonora’s program.
The players included Hovatter and Fiedler in girls singles, Jake Evans and Thomas Johnson in boys singles, Ian Smith and Brian McGee in boys doubles and Sydney Fiedler and Liberty Wheeler in girls doubles.
“Other teams took notice,” said Segerstrom.
Smith and McGee were also named to the Mother Lode League’s first team all-league.
Segerstrom will lose eight seniors. But he’s a lot of momentum to build on.
“One thing I’m really proud of is that these seniors this year really helped put Sonora back on the map with tennis and they did it from the ground up,” said Segerstrom.
Among those returning is Hovatter, who Segerstrom expects will continue her leadership role.
“She leads by example. It’s going to be great for her to return next year as one of our captains,” said Segerstrom. “We have a lot of freshmen waiting in the wings who have had great role models.”