With his cap tipped toward the sky and a tuft of hair bushing from its bill, Modesto High sophomore Coby McCaig exudes cool.
He bounces the ball along the baseline three times, and then once more. Only this time, the former basketball player slides the ball between his legs.
McCaig’s serve knocks Enochs High freshman Brian Pham off balance. His overall game – a mix of speed, power, soft slices and quiet confidence – finishes him off.
In no time, too.
McCaig captured his first Modesto Metro Conference singles championship on Thursday morning at Modesto Junior College, needing only about 30 minutes to complete his coronation.
Pham’s only advantage in a 6-0, 6-0 loss was that he served first, but even that mattered little against the reigning Sac-Joaquin Section Division I champion.
“It feels really nice, (but) I know sections is still in the way,” said McCaig, who turned 16 on Thursday. “So I can’t focus on this one too much. My main goal is more sections than MMC. It feels nice winning this and it builds up my confidence, but I have to focus more on sections.”
McCaig is on a mission to become the first Stanislaus District player in 18 years to win consecutive Division I crowns – Paul Dilloway of Beyer High was the last to do it from 1997-99 – and his scores at the MMC Singles Tournament underscore his purpose.
In four matches, McCaig didn’t lose a single game. Not one. It was nothing but “love-love” results, including the final which finished in time for lunch.
McCaig exercised all of his strokes, beating Pham with blistering forehands, pin-point backhands, slices and serves.
“I set my goal in getting as many matches of love-love as possible and feel good that I accomplished that,” said McCaig, a return specialist who set the pace all tournament with his serve.
“I worked on my serve before this. I’m hitting my serve better and using it as a weapon in matches more. I feel really good about that – and all of my ground strokes, as well.”
McCaig defeated Pham for the second time in their young careers. The underclassmen last met at a clay court tournament on the USTA circuit.
Pham and teammate Sohun Panchal will join McCaig at the Division I tournament on May 15-16 at the Johnson Ranch Racquet Club in Roseville.
An on-again, off-again club player, Pham used the final as a teaching moment. He walked away from the loss with a practice plan.
For starters, he needs to be more consistent.
McCaig, he said, is the model of consistency, no matter the stroke or style he chooses.
“I can use this to improve my tennis skills and get to the final next year,” said Pham, Enochs’ No. 2-ranked singles player. Pham advanced to the final when Downey’s Nick Mendez withdrew from their semifinal match on Tuesday with a wrist injury. “I needed to be consistent, go for my shots and not miss a lot. That’s what I learned from this experience.
“He was really consistent and went for more shots.”
McCaig will prepare for his section title defense with a few USTA tournaments, training with his brother – Western Athletic Conference champion Nolan McCaig – and exhibition matches with college-caliber players in the Central Valley.
He insists there isn’t pressure to defend.
“I wouldn’t necessarily call it a target,” McCaig said. “I know for sections, I won it last year, but I’ve got to take it one game at a time. I can’t focus on the finish line yet, because that can create problems. I’ll just take it one step at a time and hope to succeed.”