Although the Sobrato High girls tennis team has struggled to win matches in the Blossom Valley League’s Mount Hamilton Division this season, coach Rich Braen said the Bulldogs continually improve and show they belong with all the top teams.
“We’re hanging right in there, girls are not getting blown off the court (for the most part) and we’ve been competitive. We’re just not winning,” said Braen, whose team entered the week with a 1-11 record. “But playing the best competition makes our girls better tennis players.”
Sobrato’s top five players—Audrey Quinanola, Sydney Mudrak, Layla Elderkin and sisters Jonty and Kiera Nguyen—are all pretty even in skill, Braen said. That means four of the aforementioned five play the singles spots and one of them partners up with another player to compete in one of the three doubles matches.
Although the singles players might struggle because they’re usually facing top junior tournament players, the doubles teams have fared well because of the team’s depth. Generally, most high school teams are top heavy and have a significant dropoff from the top singles players to doubles.
“But we have nice balance across the board,” Braen said. “Our doubles teams are very competitive so in most of these matches we’re winning two of the three doubles matches.”
Sobrato got promoted to the BVAL’s A league this season after going 8-1 in the Santa Teresa Division last year. And while Braen admits he didn’t realize just how big of a step up in competition it would be in the Mount Hamilton, he absolutely has no regrets of asking to get the program moved up to the division.
After all, the team had several underclassmen returning and he figured staying in the Santa Teresa wouldn’t challenge his players enough. Braen said some of the doubles players including Amanda Phan, Roma Shah, Maggie Frisby, Kelly Kauinana and Jessie Huang have been “outrageously good,” while Catalina Degnan and Emma Carlsen have been standouts as well.
Players usually get mixed in for the individual and doubles tournament, and it was the teams of Frisby-Mudrak and Phan-Kauinana who had the best showing in the Mount Hamilton tournament, advancing to the second round in doubles action. Sobrato’s lone win in league play this season came against Piedmont Hills, though Braen said he was confident the team would prevail in an upcoming match against Silver Creek.
Quinanola draws the toughest assignments manning the No. 1 singles position, but plays an aggressive game and has a positive attitude to match.
“She’s very enthusiastic, has an all-around game and can hit with topspin and slice,” Braen said.
Mudrak combines athleticism and some potent shots from the baseline to stay competitive in matches. Jonty Nguyen is one of the Bulldogs’ two captains and though she tends to be reserved, leads the team cheer before each match, is a competitor and a “delightful personality,” Braen said. For those wondering, the highly acclaimed Jonty’s Vietnamese Eatery is named after Jonty Nguyen, whose dad, John, runs the family business which is located on Depot Street in downtown Morgan Hill.
Braen happens to be friends with John and said Kiera—who is just a sophomore—should be the team’s No. 1 player by her senior year.
“In the next year or two if Kiera continues to work hard, she can really blossom and be an outstanding tennis player,” Braen said. “Her baseline game is strong and she is already very competitive when playing No. 3 or 4 singles.”
Elderkin tends to have the longest matches of anyone on the team. Consistent and mentally tough, Elderkin usually wears her opponents down.
“She grinds it out from the baseline and gets everything back,” Braen said. “We’re just trying to get her to be a little more aggressive.”Last year, Sobrato’s girls tennis team ranked fourth among all CCS squads—that includes hundreds of teams—with a 3.925 GPA. This season, the Bulldogs will probably match that achievement, Braen said. Sometimes, girls miss practice to tutor other students, a testament to their academic prowess.