After going through the regular season unscathed, the Cate School girl’s tennis team suffered its first loss of the season Wednesday afternoon.
The Rams (10-1) fell to Calabasas (10-3) 10-8 in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.
Senior co-captain Grace Fuss swept all three of her singles matches in the loss, winning by scores of 6-2, 6-0 and 6-1.
In doubles, Carol Cai and Mia Foster went 2-1, while Ashi Kamra and Fritze Mayer won two of their three matches – including a thrilling 7-6 (8) match in the second round to keep their team in contention.
Kamra said it was tough to keep her emotions in check in the second round win, but both she and Mayer were able to stay focused to gut out the victory.
“Staying aggressive and being consistent was a pretty big thing, and also being energetic, too,” Kamra said. “The opponents were kind of getting down towards the end of the match, so we figured we should probably stay up and go for it.”
Coach Trevor Thorpe knew that his team would be tested in the playoffs after cruising through the Tri-Valley League unbeaten.
“When you play a tough team like this, you ideally are going to rise to the occasion – which is exactly what my girls did today,” he said. “We played really well. Our league is not this strong – we had one close match – but this is another level of competition and we don’t get too many opportunities to do that. We relish this. We lost, but we won.”
Thorpe was pleased with how his team fared in doubles play, winning five of nine matches. Cate was outscored 39-23 in game points in singles despite Fuss’ dominance.
“It’s David and Goliath out here – we’re smaller than everybody – and the way they take that on, I was telling them in the huddle there, they don’t shy away from that,” Thorpe said. “They step up to the challenge.
“The highlight for me when I show up here is that I get to work with these girls. They’re a special bunch.”
Cate’s on-court success has propelled them from Division 4 just a few years ago to Division 1 play.
“It’s something that transcends any one season, although this was a particularly good season,” Thorpe said. “The way our team is – that’s something that has been building for a long time. When new girls come in, the older girls just pass it down.”
Having strong leadership like Cai and Fuss, who serve as co-captains this season, has made Thorpe’s job a bit easier.
“Her level is really high and she plays really tough,” Thorpe said of Fuss. “When (the team) sees her play, at first they’re a little bit in awe, but then they start to play like her a little more each day.”
Cai is constantly helping her teammates and providing them tips and pointers on how to improve, he added.
While the Rams season is over, Cai and Fuss will join together in doubles play in the regional tournament later this month. The duo was one point away from qualifying for sectionals last year.
“I think they’re going to make a good run,” Thorpe said.
Fuss, a Santa Barbara native, finishes the season 23-1 in singles play. She credits her on-court dominance with the training she does at Peak Performance Project, also known as P3. Through the sports science training, she was able to work on her hip stability and shoulder strength.
“I’ve put a lot of pace on all of my shots and I feel a lot stronger overall,” she said.
As her senior season came to a close, Fuss said she will miss practicing with her teammates but knows they have forged bonds that will last a lifetime.
“I can call them some of my closest friends forever,” she said.
She plans on continuing her tennis career at Hamilton College in New York next season.
“Winter it a little concerning, but I’m going to miss Santa Barbara,” she said with a laugh.