By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Picking up a tennis racket after a year’s layoff, former Montgomery High ace Monica Borowicz won a conference title and, starting Friday, seeks a state singles championship with Santa Rosa Junior College.

Monica Borowicz (courtesy photo)

Another former Viking leading the Bear Cubs at the state finals is David Hutton, who left small college power UC Santa Cruz after one year.

Big 8 Conference singles champion Michael Kuhlman couldn’t repeat the feat in the NorCal regional, but the former Cardinal Newman great will challenge for a state doubles crown.

“Hopefully we can get deep in the draws,” said Kuhlman, who stayed in the sport after his coach and father, Bruce Kuhlman, died of cancer last summer. “My dad said tennis is over who wants it more. I figured that’s what he would want me to do.”

The three All-Empire players — Borowicz won three North Bay League singles crowns, Kuhlman one — come off a NorCal regional with mixed results. No men’s singles player made it past a tough first-round draw and only Borowicz qualified for state on the women’s side. But Kuhlman and partner Michael Fischer reached the doubles final, and the Hutton-Donny Felich team lost to the regional champions.

Back in Fresno for the state tournament, Santa Rosa’s players know the playing conditions and catch a break from the notorious Central Valley heat.

“You just play it one match at a time. We’re going to be OK,” Hutton said.

The nerves will kick in for Borowicz, yet she has the confidence of a player who has hit tennis balls since she could walk.

“I’m going to do my very best to go far,” she said. “I’m very competitive. I love being on top.”

Taking up golf after her senior tennis season at Montgomery a year ago, Borowicz enrolled at the junior college and took a retail job. But the Bear Cubs don’t field a woman’s golf team.

Borowicz joined the tennis team late in training. After touching up her strokes and finding the range on her serve, Borowicz was soon back on her game.

“I didn’t even have a goal to be No. 1 on the team. I just wanted to play,” Borowicz said. “And now I’m going to the state tournament. It really made me realize what a big part of my life tennis was.”

In his second year at Santa Rosa, Hutton has improved enough to play on at Sonoma State next season.

“It’s been great,” he said. “I’ve kind of locked it down a lot more. My backhand is miles of difference from when I came here. I’m definitely better as an overall player.”

Both of the Santa Rosa men’s doubles teams gave the eventual NorCal regional winners their toughest matches. That gives the Bear Cubs pairs confidence to play with the best in the state.

“It was just one of those matches when you fix an error here or there, and we win. We can beat anybody in this tournament,” Hutton said.

While not reaching state in singles is disappointing, Kuhlman said he has taken to doubles in college and playing better than expected. The Kuhlman-Fischer team won the conference crown before finishing runners-up at NorCal.

“We have pretty good communication. We’re good at closing,” Kuhlman said.

Volleying and returns of serve have improved for Kuhlman, who also is in better condition for the college game’s faster pace.

Kuhlman also has his late father’s coaching to draw on when needed.

“Usually, like in tight situations, I think what he would say,” Kuhlman said. “I think of him a lot during matches.”