For the second year in a row, Ceres High School's varsity boys tennis program had two players advance to the finals of the Western Athletic Conference Singles Championships.
Sophomore Nolan McCaig edged senior Julio Ochoa 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 for his second consecutive conference crown on Wednesday at Ceres High.
McCaig topped Alick Liang in straight sets (6-3, 6-4) last season.
"It was fun to watch," Bulldogs head coach Bryan Harden said while talking about the matchup between McCaig and Ochoa. "They played some long, hard-fought points. It was intense. I wasn't coaching either one of them. I was cheering both of them on."
"We knew we were going to play each other because no one could beat us," McCaig said. "We're really good friends. But we still had to play the match. It was competitive. It could have gone either way. I guess I just played better during key points."
McCaig and Ochoa were seeded first and second, respectively.
The thought of losing never entered Nolan's mind even after dropping the first set to Julio.
"I was just thinking about the rest of the match," McCaig said. "There was a little bit of pressure. But I just believed in myself. I had the right mindset. I stayed positive."
McCaig prevented Ochoa from becoming the first Ceres High boys tennis player to claim three league titles. Ochoa would have surpassed older brother Luis' total had he won last week.
Julio took first his freshman and sophomore years.
McCaig and Ochoa entered the tournament with right shoulder injuries.
Julio opted to not defend his conference title last year because of the injury.
Nolan tweaked his shoulder during the final week of the 2015 WAC regular season.
"It wasn't a walkover," Harden said. "Julio was right there. Nolan is a tremendous player. He's so quick around the court."
Down 4-1 in the third set, Ochoa cut the deficit to 5-4 before McCaig closed out the match.
"At that point, I thought Julio was done because of his body language," Bryan Harden said. "He looked tired. But he came back. Julio had to work so hard to win points. That puts a lot of stress on your body."
Julio postponed surgery because he wanted to capture his third conference crown.
Brother Luis (class of 2010) won league titles his junior and senior years.
Older sister Marifer also won a pair of WAC titles.
Julio had to serve underhand against Nolan due to his shoulder injury.
"It's his senior year," coach Harden said. "His goal was to win another league title. It wasn't like Julio played bad. It wasn't a walk-over. He was right there."
Nolan compiled a perfect 16-0 record in WAC play this year. He won all four of his matches at the conference tournament.
Ochoa had a 13-1 mark. His lone loss was to McCaig.
"Nolan's a little guy," coach Harden said. "But he's athletic. He's super quick. His speed is his big advantage. He's got a good feel for the court. He does everything so well."
"That's my goal," McCaig stated while talking about the possibility of winning four league titles. "I should be able to do it if I have the right mindset."
"We'll see what he does his next two years," Bryan Harden added.
The top three singles players at the WAC tournament qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Individual Division-II Tournament.
Bulldog senior Chase Harden just missed securing a berth as he finished in fourth place.
Harden lost 2-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-5) to third-seeded Ger Chang of El Capitan.
Chase won 14 of 16 league matches. He finished 2-2 at the conference tournament.
"Chase was in control and couldn't finish it off despite having four match points," Bryan Harden said.
Ceres High had three of the top four singles players in the WAC this season.
"Everybody got to see what we're all about," Bryan Harden said. "The boys did great. They played awesome."
Added McCaig: "It feels really good representing my school. It motivates me to be the best."