Escalon racks up tennis title

ESCALON -- Daniel Thompson was on the court last year when Escalon High fell short in a bid for a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III team tennis title.

"We lost to Placer 4-3, but it was 3-3 when Robbie Hoile and me were playing doubles," said Thompson. "We lost and I've felt bad about it ever since."

Thompson erased that memory Friday, winning the No. 1 singles 6-3, 6-2 to help the Cougars to a 5-2 win over West Campus and their third section title since 2001. It was Escalon's fifth final in nine years.

"Getting that blue (section) banner is all I've thought about," said Thompson, whose win gave Escalon a 2-0 lead. "I wanted to go out with a bang."

Escalon is the only Stanislaus District school to win a D-III title in the 25-year history of the event, and now it has three. It has carried the District banner in the playoffs: No other school has won a title in any division since the Beyer boys in 1996.

Junior Kaitlyn Brayton, the three-time defending section D-III individual champion, rolled over her foe 6-0, 6-1 to win the first match of the day.

That raised her career high school record to 66-0.

"It was as important to me that I win this match as it was that I won the individual title last week," Brayton said. "I didn't know what to expect, I had never seen her play, so I played my natural game."

That meant strong serving and attacking the net when the opportunity arose to score a point, rather than playing the net just for the sake of being there.

"You can tell early if you can use the net to your advantage, and I could see wasn't hitting lobs," said Brayton, who played more aggressive without having to fear deep return shots. "I'd say my game was about a 7 today. Playing a better opponent raises my game, but there weren't many challenges today."

Thompson played an aggressive match, and it paid off as the senior was able to blow his past his foe.

"The plan was to remain aggressive, coming to the net and attacking his backhand," Thompson said. "It's difficult for most players to make an offensive return, a shot that's intended to score a point, with their backhand. Usually they're just trying to keep the ball in play."

West Campus won two doubles matches -- the format has boys and girls singles, two boys and two girls doubles, and mixed doubles -- to get within 3-2 with a girls and mixed matches still being played.

The No. 2 girls' doubles team of Megan Merseth and Kristie Rigg bounced back from a second-set loss for a 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 victory.

Escalon finished the season 19-0, which coach Dan Thompson said is the school's first perfect season.

"The secret to our program is getting the athletes to come out and making sure everyone has fun, because then they'll encourage their friends to come out and play," the nine-year coaching veteran said.

Four of the Cougars players are also top performers in other sports -- Thompson (football), Brayton and Katie Aprile (volleyball) and Presli Pilati (golf).

"None of our kids are out there playing the junior tennis circuit, because many of them are busy with their other sports," Thompson said. "They usually don't pick up their racket until the spring.

"The other key is getting girls to play. I've found that in co-ed tennis, if you have good girls, you're going to have a good tennis team. We showed that."

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star