Bella Hoyos is proud to be a Red Raider.
Though in a way that portion of her life will come to a close on Friday evening, June 14, with Bellingham High School's Commencement Ceremony, Hoyos always will be a Red Raider.
"It definitely means a lot to be able to call myself a Red Raider because of the strong community and collective commitment we have here," Hoyos said in a phone interview. "It's cool to say you're from Bellingham High School. You get a lot of different responses when you say that, but there is a different level of respect being a Red Raider."
Over the past four years, Hoyos, as much as any other student athlete that has ever passed through the halls at Bellingham, has discovered exactly what it means to be a member of that community.
"It definitely means having a strong character, but at the same time supporting everyone and listening to everyone," Hoyos said. "Our school is kind of a big family, and we all support each other."
Even when she wasn't in a tennis uniform this spring, it was never difficult to find Hoyos doing exactly that at other Bellingham sporting events. For most of the past four years, it was usually easy to spot her in the middle of the Red Raiders student section wearing as much red as humanly possible and just having fun with her peers.
Having fun is something the effervescent Hoyos certainly knew how to do.
"I'll remember what a good tennis player she was," Bellingham coach Steve Chronister said. "I'll be seeing shots she's made in my head long after she's gone. But what I say most about Bella is she is fun. She's got a fun sense of humor. She is upbeat. She knows when she can be silly and crazy, but when it's time to play a tennis match, she is very serious."
And boy could she play the game.
For the third straight year and the second time as a singles player, Hoyos has been selected The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Girls' Tennis Player of the Year.
Sehome's Bonna Giller, who directed the Mariners over Bellingham twice this spring - the Red Raiders' only two regular-season losses in the Hoyos era - and coached freshman Lauren Smith and sophomore Andrea Clawson to the Class 2A state doubles title, was selected Coach of the Year. Giller also guided Avery West to boys' singles state title last month.
After finishing the regular season without a singles loss and cruising through her first nine postseason matches, Hoyos seemed destined to join West as a Whatcom County 2A singles champion this spring. She did not drop a set in the sub-district tournament, Northwest District tournament or the first two rounds of the state tournament - in fact, she lost only 25 games in those nine matches.
But in the state semifinals, her dream of a state title came to an end with a 6-4, 6-2 loss to Selah freshman McKenzie Kieser.
Hoyos gave credit to Kieser, an "awesome player" Hoyos said she knew from United States Tennis Association tournaments, for playing a good match.
"Bella didn't have a good match that day," Chronister said. "It was just one of those things. She didn't have a good match, and the other girl did."
Hoyos rebounded to claim third place in the singles draw for the second straight year.
"At first it was hard to lose," she said. "Nobody wants to lose. Then again, I was blessed and grateful to get to state. You can't take that away. I'm happy that I got third. Yeah, I got that last year and I was going for first, but I'm happy with the turnout because of how many people supported me, and I thought I did really well."
There is certainly no disputing how well Hoyos did this year.
She wrapped up her senior season with a 25-2 record - her other loss was in a doubles match in the regular season finale.
Though she didn't get the singles title she set her sights on, she still leaves Bellingham as a two-time state champion, as she and Megan Mullarky won doubles state titles in 2010 and 2011.
"It's hard to put in words what those mean to me," Hoyos said of the titles. "My freshman year, I don't even remember our last match. It seems like a dream, because it was so unlikely for a freshman and a junior to win state. We weren't looked at or even talked about. It was unbelievable for us and for everyone else.
"Megs and I wanted to go back and prove that we won for a certain reason - not just because of the draw or luck. So sophomore year meant a lot more to me, because we proved that we deserved it to ourselves and everyone else."
Hoyos kept on proving that point.
With 22 wins in each of her freshman and sophomore seasons, 24 as a junior and 25 this year, Hoyos posted a 93-8 career mark (.921 winning percentage).
Almost fittingly, the girl that takes such pride in being a Red Raider leaves with her name etched in the record book as the school's all-time tennis wins leader, beating out E.J. Troutman's boys' record of 78 wins and Molly Beaumont's girls' record of 82.
"Since I became a sophomore, I knew about halfway through that my goal was to beat Molly's record," Hoyos said. "I didn't think it would happen, because Molly left such a good record. But I reached my goal, and now it's going to be fun watching to see the next person beat my record."
That definitely won't be easy, just as it wasn't easy to beat Hoyos this spring.
Always an outstanding athlete who had the ability to get to unthinkable shots and the strength to hit to all corners of the court, Hoyos added to an impressive skill set she started building at age 5 when Bellingham Tennis Club pro and uncle Matthew Iwersen first put a racquet in her hand and saw her natural ability.
"I think I definitely learned patience this year," Hoyos said. "A lot of times in past years, my game was all about power and trying to hit a winner every time. This year, I was more about patience. I think I've done a good job seeing the right shot develop."
Hoyos said Chronister told her he noticed the improvement in her game from the first day of practice this spring.
But that wasn't all he noticed this year.
"Bella was taught how to play this game right," Chronister said. "A lot of kids take lessons, but Bella has natural ability, too. She's quick, and she's oh-so strong, and she has great hand-eye coordination. That's tennis. You have those three abilities, you can be a good player. But what sets Bella apart this year is her toughness. I saw that improve that so much year after year, especially this year. Good players have got it all, and she's got it all, plus she's got that toughness."
Just get a peek at the chronic, half-dollar-sized blister on the ball of her right foot she battled for the last two months of the season.
"You'd watch her play, and most of the steps she was taking, you could tell were painful - many more than others," Chronister said. "That wears on you mentally, but she didn't turn around and complain or whine about it. ... She's a very tough girl, physically."
The reason was simple - she loves to compete and she loves to represent her school.
But starting this fall, that school will be Whitworth University in Spokane, where Hoyos plans to focus her studies on health sciences and continue playing tennis on the NCAA Division III level.
Though she'll soon become a Pirate, Hoyos will always be the perfect example of a Red Raider to those who know her at Bellingham.
"I miss her already," Chronister said. "I know as a coach, you don't get many opportunities to work with players like that. I realized it last year, and I tried to enjoy every minute of it this year."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
ALL-WHATCOM COUNTY GIRLS' TENNIS PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2013: Bella Hoyos, Bellingham
2012: Bella Hoyos, Bellingham
2011: Bella Hoyos and Megan Mullarky, Bellingham
2010: Leah Strickling, Squalicum
2009: Brandi Benner and Jill Tornonchuk, Lynden
2008: Brandi Benner and Jill Tornonchuk, Lynden
2007: Molly Beaumont and Mandy Hatch, Bellingham
2006: Erica Bosman, Lynden
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.