Frank Thiessen has won so many Central Section tennis championships at Bakersfield Christian that he doesn't remember all well, but he's sure about one thing.
This year's title -- capped Wednesday when the Eagles edged Fresno-Sunnyside 5-4 in the girls Division III final -- was, by far, the most unexpected.
"This year started out with a lot of young players," Thiessen said. "Even a lot of our older kids were new to the program. At the beginning of the year, I didn't know how good we'd be in our league. I didn't think we had a chance in the Valley."
Still, BCHS (21-3) brought home its eighth straight title -- Thiessen has won nine in a row on the boys side -- when Monique Oja and Annika Tanus held off Daisy Xiong and Samantha Valdez 7-6, 7-6 at No. 3 doubles. The match ended in near darkness with a heart-thumping second-set tiebreaker that Oja-Tanus won, 8-6.
"It was very much relieving," said senior Abby Williams. "I grew some ulcers today."
Thiessen and Sunnyside coach Dave Carte are longtime friends, but their teams had no common opponents this season and therefore no idea what to expect.
But Thiessen figured his best shot was to win four of the six singles matches, meaning the Eagles would only need to win one doubles match. That plan went awry when Sunnyside's Lilly Moua came back to beat McKenzie Berkshire at No. 1 singles, 1-6, 6-0, 10-5 and Fatima Ahumada held off Briana Morris 7-5, 6-4 at No. 2 singles.
"At 3-all in singles, I was worried," Thiessen said. "I had to change what I was going to do completely in doubles."
He put two seniors, Morris and Taylor Touchstone, at No. 2 doubles, and they came through with a quick 6-0, 6-1 victory.
"When coach put us together at No. 2, it was like we needed to win not just for us but for the entire team," said Touchstone, the only Eagle to win in singles and doubles. "We didn't want to be the one (BCHS) team that didn't win Valley."
But the Eagles' other two doubles teams were entrenched in long matches. At No. 1, Berkshire and Williams fell 11-9 in a third-set tiebreaker to Moua and Ahumada, tying the team score back up, 4-4.
"It all came down to that last doubles match," Carte said. "It's one of the closest matches I've been a part of."
Oja and Tanus had won the first-set tiebreaker 7-2, but they found themselves in a back-and-forth battle in the second-set breaker. They finally earned a match point at 6-5, only to see the Wildcats tie it up again. A Sunnyside victory would have meant another third-set tiebreaker in near darkness.
Instead, Oja and Tanus came up with a winner to set up another match point, then forced a Sunnyside mis-hit that sent the ball into the BCHS crowd as it erupted.
"We were so nervous at the end," Morris said. "We didn't want to break our streak, but Sunnyside was way better than the teams we usually play in the Valley. It was so stressful. God was on our side."
Stockdale to D-I final
No. 2 Stockdale beat No. 3 Clovis East 6-3 in a Division I semifinal remarkably similar to the D-III championship.
Tied 3-3 after singles, the Mustangs won one doubles match quickly when Cara Kemp and Emily Horrigan dispatched MIlah Ryland-Jessica Barbery 6-4, 6-0 at No. 1.
Stockdale won the first set in each of the other two doubles, only to watch Clovis East mount two comebacks. Arianna Tilbury and Claire Heffernan completed their own second-set comeback to win 6-3, 7-5 at No. 2 doubles. Minutes later, Dipika Khullar and Veronica Renaker won a third-set tiebreaker 14-12 to complete the doubles sweep.
"Clovis East is a fantastic team that gave us all we could handle," Stockdale coach Dave Hillestad said. "We played well enough to win."
In singles, Kemp and Heffernan notched straight-set wins for Stockdale, and Tilbury erased a 4-0 deficit to beat Ryland 10-7 in a third-set tiebreaker.
"I think that was the turning point in the whole match," Hillestad said.
Now Stockdale (18-4) has another chance at top seed Clovis-Buchanan in the D-I championship next Wednesday in Clovis. Stockdale lost 6-3 at Buchanan in last year's final, and the teams split two meetings this year.
Frontier, Taft pull upsets
No. 4 seed Frontier beat top seed Sanger 5-4 in the Division II semifinals -- and the Titans' reward is a home game in the section final against No. 7 Fresno-Central.
Third-seeded Taft, the defending champion in Division IV, returned to the final with a 6-3 win over No. 2 Liberty-Madera Ranchos. The Wildcats will play at No. 1 Selma in Wednesday's final.