Menlo School freshmen Ashley Vielma and Taylor Gould had a big tennis decision to make before Saturday's Central Coast Section Team Tournament semifinals and finals at Monta Vista High in Cupertino.
The two could compete in the NorCal Junior Doubles Excellence tournament at the Fremont Tennis Center or play for their team and teammates.
"It was a no-brainer," said Gould.
Both took to the courts in Cupertino and represented the Knights very well. First, they helped Menlo defeat Gunn, 6-1 in a semifinal match that saw Gunn's top two singles player skip in order to play in the doubles event in Fremont.
Vielma and Gould returned to Monta Vista later in the day to face No. 3 Saratoga for the CCS title. Vielma gave top-seeded Menlo an early lead by winning at No. 1 singles, 6-0, 6-1, and Gould wrapped up the championship with a 6-4, 6-4 triumph at No. 3 singles that gave Menlo a 5-2 triumph.
The victory gave Menlo (23-1) its second straight CCS title and ninth overall since 1997 under coach Bill Shine.
"Unbelievable," said Shine, marveling at his team's season that saw only a loss to Hawaii state champion Punahou in the Golden State Classic at Stanford. "I really didn't think the freshmen would make such an impact this year."
Vielma and Gould were very instrumental in Menlo's success this season, especially on Saturday. Had both left to play in the doubles event, the Knights most likely would not have defended their title.
"It was definitely worth it to come here and win," Gould said. "I'd rather win or lose with this team than play in a junior tournament. I can do that any time. "This is a lot more special because it's the only time with this group."
Menlo actually fell behind after losing at No. 3 doubles, but Vielma's win evened the match. The No. 2 doubles team of senior Schuyler Tilney-Volk and sophomore Kathryn Wilson posted a 6-4, 6-2 win for a 2-1 lead, Saratoga battled back to tie with a win at No. 2 singles but Menlo's senior tandem of Mia McConnell and Melissa Tran rolled to a 6-4, 6-2 at No. 1 doubles for a 3-2 lead.
Junior Georgia Anderson and Gould were left on the court with one of them needing to win to clinch. As Anderson's match turned into a three-set super tiebreaker, all eyes turned to Gould.
Gould held a 5-2 lead in the second set before being pushed by Neeka Nikfar, who had clinched Saratoga's 4-3 semifinal win over Los Gatos after dropping down to No. 4 singles. She returned to No. 3 to face Gould, but couldn't pull off a second triumph.
"It's pretty cool," Gould said of clinching her first CCS title. "I was feeling a little pressure. Everyone wanted to beat us this season. I think we handled it really well. The team is really close; the chemistry helped. It's really different when you play for a team."
Shine thought two factors helped the Knights defend. One was the senior leadership of Tran and McConnell, who had different doubles partners last season.
"Their leadership and poise in all the hard matches trickled down to the rest of the team," Shine said.
The other factor was the team's schedule, which included the Golden State Classic (second place) and Battle of the Bay (4-0 record).
"Playing these tournaments really made us tough," said Shine. "They weren't intimidated. They believed in themselves and playing the best really made them tougher."
Menlo and Saratoga both will advance to the CIF NorCal Championships, set for the Broadstone Racquet Club in Folsom on Nov. 20-21. Menlo is the defending champion.