Sidelined for nearly three months with an ankle injury, Sara Choy made her long-awaited return to the tennis courts on Wednesday. Not too surprisingly, there was a victory as a result.
The Sacred Heart Prep senior ended her frustrating hibernation by teaming with Noorayn Jafri to defeat Menlo School’s tandem of Vivian Liu and Kathryn Wilson, 6-3, 6-2, at No. 1 doubles.
While Choy’s return was a positive lift for her teammates, the end result of the SHP-Menlo rivalry was the same as throughout her highly successful career as the visiting Knights posted a 6-1 triumph on a warm and humid day in Atherton.
The victory for Menlo clinched the outright title in the West Bay Athletic League (Foothill Division) heading into the Knights’ regular-season finale against host Harker on Thursday in Santa Clara.
An expected victory there will give Menlo a 10-0 league record (15-6 overall) and increase the Knights’ on-going state record to 248-0 in regular-season dual matches.
Menlo now has won 24 straight league titles – 22 under current head coach Bill Shine – and 32 league crowns overall since 1982.
For Sacred Heart Prep (6-3, 12-7), the Gators also will close their regular season Thursday while hosting Crystal Springs on Senior Day at 3:45 p.m.
Choy, meanwhile, will continue to take the rest of the season on a match-to-match basis as she continues to recover from a sprained ankle.
“When I sprained my ankle, I didn’t think a sprained ankle would take so long to heal,” Choy said. “I assumed that I would start (her senior year) earlier.”
Choy sprained her ankle at the USTA Girls 18 National Team camp in Claremont in July. She injured herself in the opening round-robin match, but then won her second.
She then moved on to the USTA Girls 18 National Championships in San Diego, where she won her opener before losing in the second round and then did not play in the consolation match.
At that point, Choy’s high school season was in jeopardy.
“It never healed,” Choy said of the injury. “I never fully recovered.”
Choy acknowledged that it has been frustrating not being able to play with her teammates. Thus, her return Wednesday was a special day despite the Gators’ defeat.
She played No. 1 doubles for the obvious reasons.
“I wasn’t ready to play singles,” she admitted. “My physical therapist said I couldn’t move side to side.”
Thus, erring on the side of caution, she took the court for the first time in a high school match this season and did what she normally does – help her team or teammates.
While she did show some rustiness, Choy displayed a big serve and helped her partner walk off the court victorious.
“I think it’s getting there,” Choy said of her health. “I should be fine.”
Choy never doubted that the injury would sideline her for the season.
“I just kind of expected I’d get back,” she said. “I just didn’t know at what point.”
While she set her usual goals of “having a really good season”, helping her team and posting a good record, the key goals are still there.
She hopes to help the Gators reach the Central Coast Section playoffs and go as far as possible. Choy also hopes to reclaim the CCS individual title she lost last year after winning the crown her freshman and sophomore seasons.
That loss in the 2016 section title match ended Choy’s 79-match win streak against high school competition.
She was still 79-1 in singles after Wednesday’s match, but looks to improve upon that mark before the season ends and she heads off to nearby Stanford, where she will play for the Cardinal next season after committing two weeks ago. Choy currently is ranked No. 9 nationally in girls’ 18s and No. 4 in California.
“It’s really good to be back,” Choy said. “Coming back from an injury is a reward.”
Choy will continue to wear a black brace on her right ankle.
“I just want to be really careful,” she said. “I don’t want to re-sprain it.”
Menlo, meanwhile, quickly turned its attention to the league-ending match at Harker and beyond. The Knights will host the WBAL Individual Tournament on Monday and Tuesday before heading into the CCS playoffs.
The win over SHP was a solid tuneup for the Knights.
“I’m proud that Sara Choy (and the Gators) were 0-8 against us,” Shine said of the past four years as the Choy-led Gators often provided the only challenge in league play.
While she wasn’t able to lead her team past Menlo during her career, Choy was 7-0 in singles and 1-0 in doubles during that time. Not too many players can claim that feat.
Shine expected Choy to play singles on Wednesday.
“Sara at 50 percent is still better than most girls,” Shine said. “I hope she gets back to 100 percent and has a great career at Stanford. She’s been a great team player over the years.”
With the Knights expected to defeat Harker and extend their ongoing record to 248-0 (matching the Menlo boys’ team), Shine is glad that pressure is off.
“The kids keep thinking about that streak,” Shine said. And why? “The darn seniors keep bringing it up.”
That has been a goal of every senior class since the streak started in 1994. No senior wants to be on the team that ended the streak. Thus far, the Knights have been perfect in that respect.
Now it’s on to the postseason where Shine believes as many as eight teams have a legitimate shot at the CCS title. Menlo, of course, is one of those teams.