BCHS advances to semifinals with win over resilient Frontier boys tennis team

On paper, Thursday’s Central Section boys tennis quarterfinal result at Bakersfield Christian may have looked rather pedestrian.

The top-seeded Eagles, who have won two straight section titles, cruised to a 9-0 home victory over No. 9 Frontier to advance to the Division II semifinals.

But the final score tells little of the match's significance, especially considering the difficult journey the Titans have had to endure the past six weeks following the untimely death of longtime Frontier coach Elton Evans on March 6.

“He’s the only coach that Frontier High School has ever had,” said Frontier interim coach Scott Hernandez, who was the Titans' JV coach the past three seasons before being called on to take over the varsity in early March. “And so for some of the guys, he’s the only coach that they’ve ever had. So it was definitely tough to get through this season.”

The 62-year-old Evans was one of the first coaches hired when Frontier opened in 2006. He was a familiar fixture in the local tennis community where he and his wife, Brenda, could often be found playing mixed doubles together at the Bakersfield Racquet Club.

“You definitely don’t expect to have to step up, but we had a couple of seniors on the team and I wanted to make sure the boys didn’t lose their chance to play their final season," Hernandez said. "I mean, circumstances happen, adversity happens, but it’s how you respond to that adversity that’s important. Some of these boys went through the COVID season where they didn’t have a season and I sure as heck didn’t want to see that happen again.”

Shaken by the loss of their mentor at the start of league play, Frontier struggled in the first few matches, Hernandez said.

“It was a major loss to my supporting team,” said Frontier sophomore standout Clayton Villarreal, who sat out Thursday's match to prepare for next week's Central Section individual area championships.

“He was a good coach and good person, and he was really there for me when I was down on my luck in my tennis career. And he just gave me that extra push to go on. The loss of him hurt. But I feel like I was able to recover pretty well and have a good season for him.”

Although Frontier's team was eliminated with Thursday's loss, Villarreal says he and his teammates grew a lot in the past six weeks.

“The loss of our coach really brought us together,” said Villarreal, who sat out Thursday’s match. “I mean he was Frontier tennis. But it made us a lot stronger as a team, to rally for each other and talk more to each other and just help the whole team out.”

Hernandez also played a big part. After watching his new team scuffling a bit, he pulled the Titans together and the team adopted a new approach the rest of the season.

"At the beginning of the season it was kind of tough because every time you’d meet a new school they’d want to talk to you and ask ‘How are you guys doing?” Hernandez said. “And at one point about halfway through the season we said, 'You know what — we’re going to focus, we’re going to pay attention and we’re going to finish strong.'”

The result was the most victories for the school in several years, Hernandez said, with league wins over rivals Garces and Centennial.

Frontier added to its season highlights with an upset victory at No. 8 Reedley-Immanuel on Tuesday to advance to Thursday’s semifinals.

“I’m just so proud of all of us,” Frontier junior Dallin Crawford said. “I don’t really feel like people expected (anything) from us. I think if we were to have just given up and quit people wouldn’t have batted an eye. But I’m proud that we kept pushing through, and we accomplished a lot this season.

“I feel like with all of our matches that we have an extra person watching from above. He’s above us and there for us.”

Eagles taking flight — again

Winner of two straight Central Section championships, the Bakersfield Christian boys tennis team is showing no signs of slowing down.

Facing a resilient Frontier squad the Eagles dominated play from the opening serve.

“We were very sensitive to knowing that this was a difficult year for them, but we just tried to remain focused on playing the level of tennis we’ve been playing,” Eagles coach Nikki Hiebert said. "Keep your intensity, keep your focus because they’re all human. If you start losing focus or you start letting your mind wander, then you don’t play as well and you make mistakes.”

BCHS got things started with three dominating performances in doubles play. Zeb Duket and Austin Cusator, who have finished in the top-4 in the section the last two years, won 6-0, 6-0 as the Eagles allowed just six points combined in their three matches.

“I feel like they played very well today,” Hiebert said. “They were very focused. They played at a high level and didn’t give up a lot and just played at the level that they’ve been playing. So I was proud of them for that.”

Duket, playing No. 1 singles, followed with a 6-0, 6-0 victory, with Cade Hiebert, Cusator, David Hair, Bryan Tran and Beckham Rader finishing the shutout victory.

“I think preseason we played a lot of teams that are Division I and did well, and so I think they have a lot of confidence from winning a lot of matches against (some tough teams)."

The Eagles will next host No. 12 Visalia-Central Valley Christian in Tuesday’s team semifinals.

“I think it’s exciting for the guys,” Hiebert said. “They play a lot of tennis, at practice and outside of practice. They’re always hitting, they’re always working hard so it’s just another chance to prove themselves and to use their talents.”