The Modesto Metro Conference Singles Tournament will feature a new No. 1 seed for the first time in two years, and that’s significant.
Modesto High’s Coby McCaig is the reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division I champion, but the sophomore won’t be defending a league title when the tournament begins Tuesday at Modesto Junior College.
Last season, McCaig was beaten in the final at Johansen High by an opponent bigger, stronger and more experienced than he.
On that day, Beyer High’s Ryan Lewis, a two-time MMC singles champion and 2015 Division I winner, looked unstoppable.
A third singles title seemed to be in the cards for Lewis, who never lost a regular-season match, and then…
Following a heartbreaking loss to McCaig in the 2016 Division I final, Lewis chose to forgo his senior season. His focus this spring has been on making a smooth transition to the college game in the fall, not McCaig.
Lewis will attend Pomona College in Southern California, where he’s expected to compete for a place on the singles ladder.
“There’s nothing left,” said Frederick Lewis, Ryan’s father. “He’s already committed.”
His decision left a hole atop the MMC pecking order, a void filled by McCaig, the top seed.
McCaig (12-0) overwhelmed the opposition this season, conceding only seven games.
“He definitely knows there’s a target on his back,” Modesto coach Scott Mitchell said, “but I feel like he’s taking it game by game.
“The one thing I appreciate about Coby, he’s a team player and he does everything he can to support our team.”
In the team standings, Gregori continues to be the gold standard. The Jaguars capped their third consecutive unbeaten season with Thursday’s 7-2 victory over Enochs.
The Jaguars were led by No. 1 singles player and captain Kenneth Whang, who completed the Jaguars’ tour de force with a straight-sets win over Enochs’ Sohun Panchal, 6-4 and 6-4.
Panchal had beaten Whang earlier in the season. Back then, though, Whang was still settling in at No. 1. He was elevated on the singles ladder when Zah Hijaouy decided to join the track and field team.
Whang, Panchal and No. 2 Nick Mendez of Downey will look to keep McCaig from his first MMC singles crown.
Mitchell said the MMC misses Lewis – a tall, powerful player with a booming serve – for his level of play. Lewis forced the other top singles players to be at their best, especially when opposite him.
“The MMC would like to see the level of play at the top that other leagues enjoy,” Mitchell said. “There are a lot of leagues up north that have pretty strong singles in their top-three, school after school after school. We just don’t have that. Our top kids aren’t at that level, so we do miss having one, two or three other players to work out with so that we are prepared for postseason.”
In many ways, Lewis readied McCaig for his historic postseason run last spring. McCaig was beaten soundly in the MMC final by Lewis, 6-2 and 6-2.
That loss fueled McCaig’s practices during the run-up to sections.
“Coby is one of the best players I have had on reading his opponent and working out how to win,” Mitchell told The Bee at the time.
McCaig would return the favor in the Division I final, foiling Lewis’ bid at becoming a two-time champion with a 6-3, 0-6, 6-2 win.
The match wasn’t without controversy.
McCaig advanced to the final on a forfeit – top-seeded Arjith Jayaraman of Granite Bay was disqualified for missing the match – while Lewis slugged it out with Napa’s Daniel Mateescu, a fiery player that extended Lewis for four hours.
Jayaraman reportedly was taking an exam at the time of the semifinal, which had been delayed by rain.
The final between McCaig and Lewis remained contentious even after the final point.
Lewis’ camp protested the result, citing a lack of rest time for Lewis in between the semifinal and final. The appeal fell on deaf ears, completing the Division I crown’s change of ownership.
“The MMC has had some very strong singles players over the last decade,” Enochs coach Niles Carlin said. “Ryan Lewis and Coby McCaig stand out as the only players to actually win the section singles championship.
“This year, Ryan chose to concentrate on his future collegiate career, taking away the possibility of some very high-level matches between Coby and Ryan. We wish Ryan all the best and look forward to seeing him succeed in college tennis.”
Now the court is McCaig’s to rule.
“Coby has gone undefeated against everyone in league play this year and is favored to win his first MMC singles title,” Carlin said. “This would give him the opportunity to defend his section singles title from last year.”
Mitchell said his star pupil isn’t looking down the road to sections, which return to Johnson Ranch Racquet Club in Roseville on May 15.
His focus is on winning an MMC singles title. The final will be contested Thursday at MJC, alongside the MMC Doubles Tournament.
“We haven’t discussed (sections),” Mitchell said. “I don’t want to get him all worked up about it until the day comes. We still have a few more weeks until that happens.”