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Harden wins VOL singles championship
Ceres High's McKenzy Harden followed up her stellar freshman season with an even-better sophomore campaign last week.

She defeated Sonora's Carley Steichen 6-4, 6-2 for the Valley Oak League girls tennis singles tournament championship on Thursday at Weston Ranch High School.

"I couldn't be more proud of her as a coach and especially as a father," Bulldogs leader Bryan Harden said. "There was a lot of pressure."

McKenzy won all 32 of her VOL matches, bringing her career record to 75-4. She accomplished her goal of an undefeated season.

"I just worked my hardest and did it," Harden said. "That's all I wanted."

"She was a big part of the reason why we were able to get back to the playoffs this year," Bryan said. "She was driven and she did it with the best possible sportsmanship that you can have. That's important."

McKenzy had plenty of motivation heading into the 2007 season. Losing to Oakdale senior and two-time defending champion Kate Medina in the finals last year fueled her fire. Harden defeated Medina twice during the regular season before suffering the devastating loss.

"She left there last year with a bad taste in her mouth," Bryan said. "She was really upset with herself because she didn't play her best in the finals. That's been quite a burden to carry around."

McKenzy rolled through a tough draw at the 2007 tournament. She beat East Union's Amanda Baker 6-0, 6-2 in the semifinals, Weston Ranch's Elia Madriz 8-3 in the quarterfinals and East Union's Cozy Heinze 8-1 in the second round on Tuesday, Oct. 30. Harden received a first-round bye.

Last year's experience paid off.

"I knew not to put myself under so much pressure and concentrate more," McKenzy said.

Harden will have a target on her back for the remainder of her high school career.

Will she be able to continue her reign by winning the rest of her VOL matches over the next two years?

"I can see that as a goal," McKenzy said. "I think it would be hard, but I think I can do it."

"She's got more work to do," Bryan said. "She needs to get better. There's a lot of areas she can improve in."