Despite finishing as the runner-up to Notre Dame-Salinas for the second straight year in the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Mission Division, the Hollister High girls tennis team has given longtime coach Ed Cecena and assistant coach Rick Espino plenty of joy this season.
“My highlight was being pleasantly surprised by the success of the team,” said Cecena, who is in his 21st season as the Hollister girls tennis coach. “Rick and I kind of worried how we would fare because we graduated a fair amount of seniors last year. But these players have really raised their level of play to compete at the varsity level.”
That includes Hollister’s No. 1 singles player and sophomore standout Jina Youn, whose rise to the top spot correlates with her dedication to the sport.
“Jina is very coachable and is intent on learning the game,” Cecena said. “She’s constantly asking questions on how she can improve particular parts of her game. She’s eager to learn and eager to get better, and that’s what a coach loves to see. She played last year as a freshman at doubles and even then we saw the potential. She came back this year and it was like, ‘Wow, she really improved.’”
Cecena said Youn hits with power off both the forehand and backhand side.
“She’s not very tall, but she packs a punch,” Cecena said. “She creates a lot of racket head speed, has a good serve and continues to develop as a tennis player. She’s a little bit on the inconsistent side, but she’s doing well and will improve over time in that area as well.”
Hollister was 13-4 overall and 11-2 in league after a 4-3 loss to Notre Dame on Oct. 24. Balers senior Esmeralda Partida, the team’s No. 2 singles player, has come on strong this season after playing No. 4 singles last season.
“She’s really come along nicely on her groundstrokes and strength,” Cecena said.
In tennis lingo, Partida is a wall, a consistent player who gets everything back and wins by frustrating their opponent into mistakes.
“She’s our best fighter on the court in terms of not giving up and then making her opponents feel like they have to do a lot to beat her,” Cecena said. “She’s well conditioned, a grinder and someone who will stay out there as long as it takes to get the job done.”
Cecena describes No. 3 singles player Cassie Rayas in a similar way because of her ability to keep the ball in play until her opponent hits an unforced error.
“Cassie tends to be a grinder and is willing to stay out there a long time, although coach Espino and I would like for her to finish points sooner,” Cecena said. “It seems like all of her matches last for a couple of hours and she can run forever.”
Another senior, Fatima Ojeda, plays the No. 4 singles position and has won the majority of her matches this season. Cecena said Ojeda has done it with a solid back court game featuring a heavy topspin-laden forehand.
“Fatima can do a lot of damage from the back with her groundstrokes,” he said. “She has come a long way, and she’s seemed to improve every year in her four years here. She’s been very successful and won a lot of matches for us.”
Cecena said the team’s doubles lineup has changed throughout the season, but the senior duo of Hailey Cullumber and Vanessa Fonseca have played the No. 1 spot most of the time. Both players have spent all four years in the program and as such possess a lot of experience that help them excel in matches.
“Their game has developed through the last few years,” Cecena said. “They’re doing well and seem to complement each other’s strengths. Vanessa seems to be the runner in the backcourt and it’s Hailey who likes to play at the net. She lunges for volleys and is very athletic.”
The Balers own a pair of 4-3 victories over Alvarez and Watsonville, a testament to their ability to not only win the easier matches but the close ones as well. Even though Hollister will graduate 10 seniors off this year’s team, Cecena hopes the lessons the underclassmen learned from the senior class will resonate with them to practice hard in the off-season.
“Tennis has become important to the seniors, and they were doing the work it takes to be successful,” he said. “They were showing up to summer workouts, trying to watch some tennis, pick up things by watching tennis. When you have athletes like that who really want to improve, that helps your program be successful.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]