Benefield: Come-from-behind stunner highlights Maria Carrillo tennis victory

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Moments after the final point, both Cardinal Newman’s No. 1, Joey Greco, and Maria Carrillo’s No. 1, Cadell Traya, sat on benches at opposing ends of the tennis court and held their heads in their hands.

A long moment passed before two of Traya’s teammates walked through the gate and onto the court. They sat on either side of him, patting his back as he kept his face in his hands. When he walked off the court, his eyes were red.

And Traya was the guy who won.

But Maria Carrillo tennis coach Bob Klyce said his player’s emotional reaction likely had more to do with how he won than anything else.

“Being down in a tiebreaker 4-9? It’s unbelievable to come back and win a match like that,” he said.

In a North Bay League-Oak Division tennis match that pitted the first- and second-place teams to decide the division championship, the No. 1 players from each squad battled in blustery conditions to split the first two sets. Traya won the first 6-4, but Greco, a sophomore, battled back and took the second 3-6. At that point, the Pumas had enough wins on the afternoon to have the match — and therefore the division title — secured, so it was agreed that the pair would play a super tiebreaker: First to 10 wins.



And that’s when Traya fell behind 4-9. He subsequently ran off seven straight points, winning the tiebreaker 11-9 and taking the match.

“It’s like being down 9-4 in the bottom of the ninth,” Klyce said. “It’s almost unheard of, coming back.”

But Traya felt spurred on both by wanting to help deliver a clean sweep for the Pumas, but also because Greco took him apart 6-1, 6-0 the first time these two powers played on March 14. That loss burned.

“My parents were devastated, I was devastated. I had to come out here and put all my heart into it,” Traya said. “It meant the world to me.”

And it did, indeed, help the Pumas post a 7-0 win to secure the North Bay League-Oak Division title. The Pumas tied Cardinal Newman for the NBL crown in 2016, but have won it outright every year since.

“The team win was super important. I love this team to death,” Traya said.

In other matches, Pumas senior Jim Klyce beat junior Creighton Anderson Soria 6-3, 6-0; senior Kayden Traya beat sophomore Blake Fair 6-3, 6-2; and freshman Chris Leung beat senior Marcus Vidaurri 6-1, 6-0. In doubles action, freshman Kendall Lee and junior Kyle Lee beat senior Kai Kumra and sophomore Gianna Hafner 6-4, 2-6, 10-0; senior Vishnu Pillai and sophomore Lakshman Sundaram beat senior Jack McLaughlin and junior Nathan Roman 6-0, 6-4; and junior Ian Olliffe and senior Ari Miller beat senior Anthony Roman and senior Andrew Sorenson 6-4 in the final match of the day.

But Bob Klyce said the team contest was closer than it appeared.

“One of the pivotal matches was that second doubles,” he said of Pillai and Sundram’s win. “We lost that one last time. That was the writing on the wall.”

Klyce said his team played with conviction, despite the challenging conditions — the wind was blustery in the early stages match and downright fierce later in the day.

“I thought we played with a little more confidence today,” he said. “They got their first serve in.”

Cardinal Newman coach Tony Greco credited the Pumas for finishing off tight points in each match.

“We got beat by a better team that handled the conditions better, handled the opportunities better,” he said.

Greco said that on some courts, the Cardinals fought and even built leads, but couldn’t finish the deal.

“Tennis is a momentum game,” he said. “When you are up 4-3, you’ve got to put the nail in the coffin.”

Case in point was his son, Joey Greco’s, match. Joey Greco fought back and appeared to take control of the tenor of his contest with Traya. But not putting away a player like that can teach lessons that maybe a coach’s words cannot, he said.

“There nothing that I could teach him that he didn’t learn,” he said.

Joey Greco was ready to analyze what went wrong before the final match was played Wednesday.

“The first set I went out very sloppy, I let my head drop. I thought I was going to lose the whole thing right away,” he said. “After the first set, I lost by a good amount and I was like, he’s playing really well. I don’t think I can play better than him right now.”

But despite that, he clawed his way back into it. His emotions were all over his game — he slid his racket across the court after one side change, slammed the ball into the ground numerous times and exhorted himself to pick up his game.

“My coach is my dad, so he gets pretty mad at me, but it makes me feel better — if I just hit one ball on the ground — I just let it all out and the next point just go into it and explode,” he said.

Traya, for one, said that whatever Greco was doing, worked. And it injected some fire into the contest.

“Joey, he’s a great player, he’s a good dude. I love his attitude out there,” he said. “He has good all-around tennis. He has a great serve, good spin, he knows where to place it. He knows where to move on the court to get to the ball fast. I love those opponents, it just makes me want to try harder.”

The best news is that although this was the last head-to-head between these two teams this season, the North Bay League singles tournament will pit many of them against each other again. The singles tournament is scheduled for April 18 and 20.

“Carrillo’s a great team; they played their hearts out,” Joey Greco said of the Pumas. “We came and we played but we didn’t play with as much heart and as much fire as they did.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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