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The Bruce Is Loose - Edwards Back On Track Leading Bruin Tennis Squad
He's like the Bret Favre of Riverbank athletics.

Longtime track, cross country and tennis coach Bruce Edwards came out of retirement this spring to take the reins of a 2012 coed tennis team in the thick of a Trans-Valley League battle for playoff seeds. Eighteen days into the conference season, Riverbank (3-2) is tied with Ripon and Modesto Christian for second place in the league standings. All three teams are 1-1 against opposing programs within the deadlock.

Since the three teams trail unbeaten Sac-Joaquin Section juggernaut, Escalon (5-0), they will fight for tennis-elbow room in the final five matches of the season as the three postseason seeds are decided. Riverbank faces MC at home on April 17 and Ripon on the road just three days later.

"All three of us are very equal, and anything can happen," Edwards said on Sunday. "It's going to come down to those last matches against MC and Ripon."

The Bruins opened the season with an 8-1 rout of Hughson on March 16, but faltered to a stacked Escalon squad in a 9-0 defeat four days later.

The Bruins rallied to win three big tiebreakers and topple host MC 6-3 on March 23, but saw close matches swing Ripon's way in a 5-4 defeat on March 27. The team bounced back with a 7-2 victory over Orestimba on Friday, capitalizing on a sweep from Bruin singles players and three wins from Riverbank doubles teams. Eric Hernandez started things with a win in 6-3, 6-4, 10-8 scores while Gabby Macedo landed 6-4, 6-1 wins. Armando Rodriguez claimed a 6-2, 6-1 victory while Linda Erazo stole 6-3, 6-4 scores in her favor. Dominique Jennings and Mago Manriquez won their girls doubles match after a 6-1, 6-1 rally while Caroline Schauf and Hermelinda Soto won 6-1, 6-4. Celena Hernandez and Rigo Calderon added a mixed doubles win after 6-1, 6-1 scores as well. Riverbank's two losses came from a tight doubles matches by Juan Aalfaro/Ernie Velasco (7-5, 5-7, 12-10) and Javier Baltazar/Nick Campell (3-6, 4-6).

Riverbank's boys doubles teams have struggled against stiff conference foes, but the girls doubles tandems have landed key league victories. Jennings and Manriquez sport eight years of experience between them, and have enjoyed success in their final prep campaign. Schauf and Soto are 4-1 on the year and have been equally impressive despite their youth.

The mixed-team power of Hernandez and Calderon (both seniors) is also 4-1 on the year. Edwards said the pair play with good chemistry and may represent the strength of Riverbank's collection of doubles players.

Riverbank's singles players have proven tough against stiff VOL foes. Hernandez was one of the best players in the league a season ago, and has already seen the best the league has to offer after a 3-2 standing against each teams' top singles player. Rodriguez was a doubles standout in 2011, but has adapted well to his position on the thin court.

First-year player, sophomore Erazo, has shown nice improvement along with her singles counterpart (Macedo). Edwards said both looked sharp against Orestimba.

The returning players and new talent combine for an interesting task of tutorship from Edwards, who took a break from coaching and full time teaching after the 2010 season. He surrendered the program to Brandon Harker in 2010, but found himself with his former duties when Harker stepped down after last year's third place TVL finish and run into the SJS playoffs. It was there that Riverbank was dispatched with a 7-0 loss to Southern League runner-up, Ripon Christian. Escalon won the TVL in 2011 and reached the Division III Coed semifinals before a loss to eventual section champ, Placer.

The difficult bracket contains 20 total qualifiers from seven different leagues, including historic powerhouses from the Sacramento area.

It's the type of competition Edwards longed for during his absence from the court, but he knew a return to coaching was only inevitable.

"I figured I would come back in time, one way or another," Edwards said. "I knew I needed some time off, but coaching is just in my blood.

"I love working with the kids and I have a lot more time now that I don't have to grade papers every night."

Edwards currently teaches a few classes a week at the Riverbank Language Academy and plays a role in Cardozo Middle School's physical education programs.

Riverbank squared off with host Hughson on Tuesday, but results were not available at press time. The team hosts Escalon on Thursday.