BELLINGHAM - The Sehome girls' tennis tale is about one of the most talented teams of young players in Whatcom County history along with a lone senior in the lineup of an unbeaten squad.
The senior is a tennis "rookie," at that, but what a rookie.
Emily Webster - an all-county soccer player who has signed to play for Western Washington University on scholarship - is contributing far more than she expected only six matches into her single-season net career.
Webster displayed her mental and physical toughness as she and junior Natalie Knops contributed a straight-set victory at No. 2 doubles in defending Northwest Conference champion Sehome's 6-1 win over visiting Bellingham (8-2, 1-1) on Friday, April 18, in a classy match-up of two of the best Class 2A teams in any league in the state.
Long after the other matches were decided, however, the girl who received the most hugs in a mob scene was regular Red Raiders doubles performer Catie Welch. She played her first singles match in two years and claimed a classic 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-2 win over talented Sehome sophomore Lizzie Friesen at No. 3 singles.
It was somehow fitting that Welch rewarded Bellingham with a win, since it's likely that only a team as slick and skilled as Sehome (6-0, 1-0, in the wake of a 17-0 record last year) likely could have dispatched the Red Raiders so efficiently.
Longtime Bellingham coach Steve Chronister said he was proud of his team's efforts against a Mariners team he said "could be the best in the state."
Webster - who teamed with Knops to beat Bellingham's Kara Burns and sophomore Oriana LoCicero 6-1, 6-3 - said she took up tennis "to challenge myself."
"I knew tennis would be a long shot for me (being a rookie on such a power-packed team)," said Webster, making an unintentional pun considering how effectively she has been known to take long shots in soccer.
"I came in with no idea what to expect, with no expectations," said Webster, whom Sehome coach Bonna Giller said "quickly earned respect for her great work ethic."
Webster said she had been inspired by her father's enthusiasm for tennis and by Giller's instructional skills in physical education classes.
"I took a racquet sports class twice with her (Giller)," said Webster, who said that made her realize how much she wanted to play for her.
"She's a true blue-collar player," Giller said of Webster. "She's an extremely hard worker."
Knops, who has played tennis pretty much forever, said she was more than OK with having a rookie doubles partner.
"Knowing how athletic Emily is, I wasn't too worried," said Knops, who saw Webster make a "great line shot" in the final game of the second set. "She is really driven. Our improvement has made it super for us. Emily is so mentally tough. She hustles to every ball and never gives up. I was impressed with how she's able to move so well."
Sehome won the other three singles matches as junior Andrea Clawson fought off a strong challenge from senior Kira Vazorka 6-3, 6-2; sophomore Lauren Smith beat Mariah Miller 6-1, 6-0; and junior Simone Hall beat freshman Ellie Iwersen 6-2, 6-1.
In the other doubles matches, junior twins Madison and Taylor Harris won at No. 1 over Bellingham's Tess Owen and Keri Brauner 6-3, 6-4; and sophomores Andrea Zucci and Ali Morrow prevailed at No. 3 over Olivia Bjorklund and senior Ashley Spink, another tennis newcomer who has done well. It was only the second loss in eight matches for the Bjorklund-Spink team.
"I have been wanting to play singles. I did miss it, although I have fallen in love with doubles," said Welch, when asked what she felt when she was told she would play singles for the first time since she was a sophomore. "I had to fight for every point today. She (Friesen) is really talented."
Vazorka said she "definitely enjoyed" playing against Clawson, who teamed with Lauren Smith to win last year's Class 2A state doubles.
"I played better than the first time we met this season (in a non-league match). I was more prepared today and several of the games were closer than the score indicates. Congratulations to Andrea; she has improved a lot. But I'm not disappointed in myself."
Chronister agreed with his No. 1 player.
"Kira has really been playing well since spring break," he said. 'She hasn't had a bad match since then."
Chronister was happy to welcome Spink, a four-year varsity basketball regular who quickly worked her way into the doubles lineup.
"I really wanted to try tennis and play with so many friends," said Spink. "I didn't have any expectations. But I just love our team atmosphere and practice is a lot of fun. I learn so much with this much talent around me."
Doubles partner Bjorklund agreed.
"Ashley's so athletic, I wouldn't say I'm surprised (by her success)," said Bjorklund said. "But what I'm surprised is how much of a real tennis player Ashley looks like already."
"Oh, I'm really a fake player," said Spink, causing Bjorklund to break out in hearty laughter.
Sehome sophomore Smith said she is enjoying playing singles instead of doubles, notwithstanding her state title with Clawson.
"I'm hoping we can make it to state (in singles)," Smith said in her quiet, humble style. "And we'd like to go unbeaten (as a team, like last year when Sehome was 17-0)."
Giller and Chronister were both gratified with a solid day.
"I'm happy with how we played," said Chronister. "Sehome's just really good. But we came to fight on every point and we did that."
"I'm very pleased," said Giller. "Our team is young, but they handled themselves very well."
SEHOME 6, BELLINGHAM 1
Singles: Andrea Clawson (S) def. Kira Vazorka 6-3, 6-2; Lauren Smith (S) def. Mariah Miller 6-1, 6-0; Catie Welch (B) def. Lizzie Friesen 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-2; Simone Hall (S) def. Ellie Iwersen 6-2, 6-1.
Doubles: Madison Harris/Taylor Harris (S) def. Tess Owen/Keri Brauner 6-3, 6-4; Natalie Knops/Emily Webster (S) def. Kara Burns/Oriana LoCicero 6-1, 6-3; Andrea Zucci/Ali Morrow (S) def. Olivia Bjorklund/Ashley Spink 6-0, 6-2.