Nolan and Coby McCaig are brothers, separated by just two years and two inches, so naturally everything is a contest, a battle, a tug of war.
Video games? Always.
“We compete in everything we do,” said Nolan, a senior at Ceres High. “We’re always trying to win, no matter what we’re doing. At the end of the day, we might be mad at each other, but we know it’s for a good cause – to make each other better.”
There is a line to this rivalry, though, and it exists on the tennis court, where the McCaig brothers are among the very best in Northern California and each other’s top cheerleader.
Nolan is the older of the two, a four-time Western Athletic Conference champion and two-time Sac-Joaquin Section finalist. He’s accomplished what no tennis player in school history has, and he’ll take his game – so sound and full of swagger – to Midwestern State in Texas in the fall.
Coby is the kid brother, a left-handed sophomore that has defied the status quo with each opportunity. As a freshman at Modesto High, he won the Division I singles title, rallying from the tournament’s No. 4 seed. Coby defeated Beyer High’s Ryan Lewis, a Modesto Metro Conference rival and the defending champion, in the final.
“Seeing him win that section title, I felt really, really proud,” Nolan said. “I know how much he worked ... and how much we’ve worked with him.”
On Monday and Tuesday, the McCaigs’ paths intertwine at the Johnson Ranch Racquet Club in Roseville, the site of the Sac-Joaquin Section tournaments. The seeding meetings will take place Monday morning, and Coby and Nolan are expected to be among the top seeds in the divisions I and II tournaments, respectively.
Nolan is 20-0 and ranked No. 40 in the USTA’s 18-year-old age group. Coby is 17-0 in high school matches, ranked No. 13 amongst 16-year-olds, and recently won a national doubles title.
The McCaigs might wrestle around the living room and chirp at one another on the basketball court, but they’re united in their hunt for section glory. For Nolan, the disappointment of coming so close – he reached the final in 2014 and ’15 –is stymied by the support of his family.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been agonizing, but more a motivation to finally get it done,” said Nolan, who lost in 2015 to two-time champion Helmont Legaspi of Inderkum, now a freshman at Sacramento State. “Every year, I’ve gone to sections and gone pretty far. I have the motivation to take it all this year.”
Coby is his No. 1 fan.
It would be easy for the little brother to hang his accomplishment over the head of his older brother – “I’m the better basketball player,” he says – but for now, there’s no place for sibling rivalry on the tennis courts.
Not with history hanging in the balance.
The McCaigs hope to become the first brothers in section history to hold singles titles simultaneously.
“I’m going to keep encouraging him,” Coby said, “because I know this means so much to him.”
Athletically, Nolan, a 5-foot-9, three-star prospect, has the physical tools to wear the crown.
The ball explodes off his racquet, and with a headband and cat-like reflexes, he runs down points the way Rafael Nadal would.
“He’s got a big ball, and he definitely uses that in his matches, as well as his speed,” Coby said. “He’s one of the most athletic players I’ve seen, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my brother.
“He works hard on the court to get to every ball. It’s impressive to me. He slides everywhere, and I admire that aspect of his game.”
The respect is mutual.
Nolan believes Coby’s advantage is mental. The 5-foot-7, four-star prospect has a deep desire to win and a unique ability to solve his opponent on the fly, and once he’s seized momentum, the lefty possesses a lethal finishing stroke.
“I admire his will and the way he hits his shots,” Nolan said, “especially his backhand.”
The compliments are the result of the competition in practice. Following a plan carefully devised by tennis pro parents Richard and Leticia McCaig, the brothers have trained among college athletes at Modesto Junior College and the University of the Pacific, and traveled the state playing tournaments.
That preparation, dedication and sacrifice has led to this moment: Two days of tournament play at Johnson Ranch Racquet Club.
“It’s been awesome having our name heard everywhere,” Nolan said. “I’m really proud of my brother and myself, and we’re thankful for what our parents have done to get us to this level that we’re playing at right now.”