Personal Best: Skulls seek victory in desert

Discouraged from playing sports as a child, Linda Kitano is making up for lost time.

Kitano is the team captain of the Skulls, a women’s tennis team from the San Francisco Tennis Club that earned a spot in the USTA League National Championships held this weekend in Tucson, Ariz.

While attending school and working in the family restaurant in her native Salt Lake City, Kitano yearned to play tennis.

“I would just hit against the wall, but no one wanted to play with me,” she said.

She has no problems finding a game these days. After moving to San Francisco to attend the Academy of Arts College and later receiving bachelors and masters degrees in education from San Francisco State, tennis became Kitano’s sport of choice. With her three children grown, Kitano joined the SFTC in 2005 to play competitive tennis.

Weekday evenings she leaves her job at Mills High School, where she is assistant principal, and spends four hours practicing at the club. On the weekends, Kitano spends six hours each day on the courts.

The 5-foot grandmother with the endearing smile wouldn’t appear to be a “task master,” but that’s how she is described by coach Matthew Donaldson. “Linda is a good administrator and a good organizer, the glue to the team,” Donaldson said of his captain and key doubles player.

Kitano prefers to deflect the attention from herself to her team and its very successful season.

She goes so far as to blame herself for the one loss in an 11-1 regular season versus San Francisco ­opponents.

“We could’ve won, but for the way I arranged the lineup,” Kitano said.

The Skulls’ dominance continued in the postseason as the team swept the area playoffs with victories over the Westlake team as well as SFTC rivals, The Boomerangs. Success followed in the district finals in Napa and the sectionals in Carmel Valley, where the Skulls were ultimately crowned the Northern California Sectional Champions.

Eleven players from the Skulls’ roster of 14 will be making the trip to Tucson.

Singles player Sandy Lau, and doubles competitors Kitano, Janine Kompor and Sally Yoo have played together for the past three seasons and are joined by some talented teammates.

“We set this goal two years ago,” Kitano said, referring to the nationals. “We really did handpick this team. Most of the girls are very athletic. They have a lot of experience with tennis.”

But how will these San Franciscans hold up in the desert heat?

“Hydration is the key,” Donaldson said. “I have some tricks up my sleeve from my military days.”

Kitano has confidence in her Skulls.

“We are preparing; we’re getting ready. We know that we are going to be facing some really tough teams,” the captain said. “It wasn’t based on skullduggery that got us here, but on hard determination and dedication. It’s been a real cohesive group that worked really hard.”

 

Tennis competition

What: United States Tennis Association League Adult Division National Championships

Where: Randolph Park Tennis Complex, Tucson, Ariz.

When: Through today

National tennis rating program: 2.5 (entry) to 5.0 (advanced)

The SFTC’s Skulls: 3.0 Level Northern California sectional champions

Info: www.sftennis.com

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