Amie Ardis fell into a chair beneath a large umbrella casting shade over the group, removed her knee brace and propped up her legs.
After three matches, including two against her closest teammates, the Central Catholic High School ace had earned this moment of comfort and relaxation.
Despite a tender right knee, Ardis held serve Tuesday in the Valley Oak League Singles Tournament at Weston Ranch High School, reaching the final for the second consecutive year.
It’s been a great season. The girls have really worked hard, and I’m really looking forward to taking this momentum into section playoffs.
Christy Perez, Central Catholic girls tennis coach, on the Valley Oak League tournaments
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The tournament’s No. 1 overall seed faced little resistance, dispatching Sierra’s Kelly Brown in the second round 8-1, teammate Rosella Rangel 6-2, 6-1 in the quarterfinals and teammate Faith Masellis 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals.
Ardis will return to Weston Ranch on Thursday for the final, which will be played alongside the VOL Doubles Tournament. She will square off against No. 2 Claire Banks of Sierra, who ousted Manteca’s Elizabeth Tolbert in the other semifinal.
Banks, wearing a bandage on her hand, opened with victories over Vanessa Hamilton of East Union and Koryn Menasco of Manteca.
Ardis has beaten Banks twice this year and looks forward to the third installment of their rivalry.
“I’m looking forward to playing the Sierra girl because she’s really nice,” Ardis said, “and she’s a really good challenge.”
Ardis was beaten in the 2014 final by former teammate Payton Kelley, who needed three sets to put away the then-No. 3 seed. Ardis doesn’t begrudge Kelley for the loss, but she is using that close call as motivation.
2-0 Central Catholic No. 1 Amie Ardis’ record against Sierra’s Claire Banks, her opponent in Thursday’s VOL singles final.
“I wasn’t upset because Payton’s a really great player and it was a great match,” Ardis said, “but I hope that I can play better this year and win it.”
One year after boasting three of the four semifinalists, Central Catholic coach Christy Perez had to watch her top players battle it out on the same side of the bracket.
Ardis reached the semifinal by dispatching Rangel, the only other senior on the Raiders’ roster. In their semifinal, Ardis moved Masellis around the court, relying on a biting backspin to win many points.
“She’s worked hard this year,” Perez said of Ardis. “Being No. 3 last year and the year before No. 4, it was nice that she came out in the No. 1 position and has gotten all the way through to the final on Thursday, with good hopes that she will continue and hopefully end up taking the VOL (championship).”
League tournaments are the first leg of the high school postseason. The VOL will send its top three teams – two-time champion Central Catholic, Manteca and Oakdale – to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III team tournament.
The top three finishers in the singles and doubles tournaments will qualify for the section’s individual tournaments. Masellis will advance after placing third via a forfeit.
Central Catholic is the defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division III team champion. It was the program’s first team tennis section championship since 1986, when coach Christy Perez was a four-time section singles champion.
Perez hopes it’s the start of another magical run. Last season, the Raiders won the D-III team tennis championship, their first in nearly three decades. Perez, a former four-time individual section champion, was a member of that 1986 squad.
“I spoke with our athletic director (Billy Hylla), and he mentioned the fact of us possibly building a dynasty,” she said. “I just feel like we’ve been very, very lucky with some very good talent with the girls and the boys.
“It’s been a great season. The girls have really worked hard, and I’m really looking forward to taking this momentum into section playoffs. That’s where my concern is at this time, trying to make sure over these next two weeks we stay healthy, physically fit and ready to play when it comes to sections.”