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Ochoa, CHS girls tennis team expect to maintain winning tradition
Marifer will star at No. 1 singles for fourth year in a row
Bulldog senior Marifer Ochoa will be vying for her second Western Athletic Conference singles championship. She placed first in 2010 and second the past two seasons. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Marifer Ochoa will look to add to her already-impressive resume during her final season with Ceres High School's varsity girls tennis program.

"There's pressure having to carry the team," Ochoa said.

"It gets overwhelming sometimes. But it's something I enjoy."

Marifer will star at No. 1 singles for the fourth year in a row.

She's posted a 42-6 record in Western Athletic Conference play since her freshman year.

She's placed first once and second twice at the league finals.

Ochoa's qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Individual Championships three times.

Marifer led the Bulldogs to their sixth straight playoff berth last season.

"I honestly do think I'm going to win league this year," said Ochoa, 2011 and 2010 WAC co-MVP and 2012 first-team all-conference honoree. "I want it really bad. It's going to take a lot of focus and hard work. I played a lot over the summer. I gained more experience. I'll be more relaxed."

Ochoa compiled a 1-1 record on her way to a top-eight finish at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-II Individual Championships as a junior.

Marifer won 17 of 21 matches, including 13-3 in conference play.

She lost 7-5, 6-4 to 2013 Los Banos graduate Alexis Barcellos in the WAC finals.

Hurt by unforced errors and poor serving, Ochoa squandered a 5-2 lead in the first set.

Marifer fell behind 5-1 in the second set. She cut the
deficit to 5-4 before double faulting to end the match.

Barcellos defeated Ochoa 6-2, 6-3 for the conference title in 2011. Marifer collected 14 wins and just two losses on the year.

Marifer had a near-perfect 15-1 mark in league play her freshman year. She edged Barcellos 7-6, (7-4), 7-6 (7-4) for the WAC title.

"I think it's possible for me to win all my league matches," Ochoa said. "Alexis graduated. There's still going to be competition. But it's not going to be as tough."

Marifer also has a family tradition to uphold.

Older brother Luis, a 2010 Ceres High graduate, won a pair of league titles and Most Valuable Player awards.
Younger brother Julio captured WAC titles his freshman and sophomore years (2013, 2012). He was voted conference MVP twice.

"I'd like to match my older brother," Marifer said. "It's a little late to beat Julio. I believe he'll win four. They encourage me to play. We're very competitive."

The Ochoa siblings, along with their parents, have spent countless hours at the Modesto Fitness & Racquet Club over the years.

Marifer worked out, swam and played tennis up to seven hours a day during the summertime.

"I feel like it's a second home," Ochoa said. "Sometimes, I bring my homework and do it here. Then play tennis. Most of my time is spent here. The other players joke around and say I should bring my bed."

Bryan Harden, Ochoa's coach for the past three seasons, will be a spectator this year as his contract was not renewed by Ceres High. Harden guided the Bulldogs to record heights during his 20-plus years of service.

"That's very unfortunate," Ochoa said. "He's such a good coach because he's so experienced. When he talked with me, it really made a difference. He gets the girls excited to play. We're going to miss him."

Said Harden: "I would be very surprised if Marifer didn't win league. She's definitely improved from last year. She just needs to keep working hard."

McKenzy Harden, Bryan's daughter, re-wrote the record books while starring at No. 1 singles from 2006-09 with the Bulldogs.

She compiled a 161-9 record, won three Valley Oak League titles and MVP awards, and secured four playoff berths. Her teams captured back-to-back conference titles and made three straight postseason appearances.

Eldest daughter Logan Harden and Amanda Guajardo also had standout careers at Ceres High.

"I've had some strong players," Bryan Harden said. "She (Marifer) ranks right up there behind McKenzy."

"I know McKenzy," Ochoa said. "She's a really good player. She's a nice person. I really look up to her. When I was a freshman, I cared more about breaking her records. I would have liked to win more. But I've still accomplished a lot."

Ochoa will continue her tennis career at the next level. "That's been the plan all along since I was 10," she said. "I'll play in college but I'm not sure where. Maybe Stanislaus State."