Girls’ tennis shows potential for an energized playoff run after close season opener

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Daria Burnosova

Junior and No. 1 singles player Mila Mulready won her match easily (6-0, 6-1) against Carlmont’s top competition. Last season, she won the Peninsula Athletic League’s individual tournament.

Elise Spenner, Managing Editor

I’m not quite sure what the secret to the success of the girls’ tennis team is.

It could be a head coach who will drive six hours round-trip from Chico for an impromptu Saturday morning practice with 12 of the team’s top players, arriving on a Harley motorcycle.

Alternatively, it might be the assistant coach’s ad-hoc meditation sessions, prompting eleven tennis players to lie flat on the asphalt court a day before the season opener.

Or it could just be the pre-match donuts.

But whatever their secret is, it seems to be working. Although the team isn’t chock full of all-stars and doesn’t produce a constant stream of championships, Burlingame head coach Bill Smith manages to pull together a consistent, tight-knit squad year in and year out.

That’s quite the feat. 

Just last year, the team qualified for the second round of the Central Coast Section (CCS) championships. And with seven experienced seniors, junior Mila Mulready at No. 1 singles and a gaggle of new freshmen, this season shouldn’t be any different.

“We look like a playoff team today,” Smith said during their first match against Carlmont High School on Sept. 13. “So we’ll see if we can get there.”

And although they would go on to lose 4-3 against the Scots in a tightly-contested match, Smith’s proclamation held true: Mulready dominated 6-0, 6-1; senior Ella Rafferty pulled out a victory in a tiebreaker after a lengthy three-set battle; and freshmen Samantha Tom and Evelyn Du produced Burlingame’s only doubles victory. 

“I’m looking forward to getting into CCS,” Mulready said. “Just came short of it last year, but I think we’re going to do better this year.”

But Mulready, who spends much of her time preparing for and competing on the junior circuit, knows that winning isn’t everything for the Burlingame team. 

“Junior tennis is very lonely. It’s an individual sport, so it’s great to actually play on a team,” Mulready said. “And that’s the whole reason I’m doing this  — for the friendship, the companionship.”

The newest members of the team (who idolize Mulready, by the way) were fully in agreement. Although Lyra Sheng, Francesca Caban and Kylie Friedman knew that their results wouldn’t count in the team score, it’s clear that they were having a good time. Half giggling, Caban said the season was “eventful.” Sheng described it as “energizing.”

That’s the beauty of Burlingame’s program, Smith said: even players who might not be in the top-10 during their first seasons tend to stick with the sport. Some stay for the community; others, however, are just determined to improve. Regardless, the end result is improvement up and down the roster.

“That’s the key to graduating five, seven, nine players,” Smith said. “Half of them just came up, and they persevered to get there their senior year.”

Don’t get me wrong: the girls love to win, too, and they all cited aspects of their game to improve over the course of the season. But mostly, they love their team — the chatting between drills at practice, the inside jokes and the endless stream of cheering from the sidelines.

So maybe the donuts, the supine meditation and the motorcycle are all just icing on the cake. Maybe the tennis team’s real secret is this: no one wants to leave. And why would they?